Starring: Dany Boon, Andre Dusollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean Pierre Marielle, Dominique Pinon, Julie Fernier, and Marie-Julie Baup. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Rated M (violence and sexual references). 104 min.
Coming from the Director of the marvellous black comedy, “Delicatessen”, and the delightful “Amelie”, this film is a surreal and whimsical tale of a man with a stray bullet in his head who decides to take on two rival weapon-dealing companies, and wins. The almost meaningless title is intended to convey a mess of junk, and Jeunet engages wilfully throughout the film in weird story-telling.
Dany Boon, as Bazil, works in a video-store in Paris, and is hit accidentally by a stray bullet from a gun hurled from a passing car in a gangland incident outside his shop. Taken to hospital, the doctors decide to leave the bullet in his head, and their decision is critical. If they leave the bullet in Bazil’s brain, he risks instant death, but if they extract it, they will turn him into a vegetable. With the bullet intact, Bazil leaves hospital, unemployed, and with no place to stay. Roaming through the streets of Paris, Bazil meets Slammer (Jean Pierre Marielle) who introduces him to an eccentric group of industrial scavengers, who specialize in collecting junk. They all live in one of Paris’ junk-yards, and they are total misfits. They include a human cannonball, who desperately wants to get into the Guinness Book of Records (Dominique Pinon), an autistic, calculator genius (Marie-Julie Baup), and a flexible body-contortionist who sleeps in refrigerators (Julie Fernier). Bazil manages to give them all a purpose in life they didn’t quite have before, and they decide to join him in his act of retribution. They work together to help him take on the two rival weapon companies whose buildings face each other in the same Parisian street. Andre Dusollier and Nicolas Marie are the CEOs of the companies, which manufactured the landmine that killed Bazil’s father years before, while he was fighting in the Sahara desert, and the bullet that now lies lodged in his brain. The skills of Bazil’s new friends are used highly imaginatively in the movie to bring the two industrialists down.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a director who always brings a distinctive style to his work, which is instantly recognizable. The film includes a host of visual sketches, drawn in Buster Keaton style. The film is full of characters behaving oddly, sharp observation, and an engaging musical score threads through it all. There are constant comic highlights, such as the elderly couple squabbling in bed over where their dog will sleep, the deft manipulation of an airport security crisis, and the chic lady horrified at the pool of something wet next to the dog at her feet. After explosions that tear the arms buildings apart (arranged by Bazil and his team), the story develops its conceit by becoming a satire on weapons-dealing. The plot is too whimsical, however, to comment entirely forcefully on global capitalism and the arms trade, but several telling points are made, especially towards the end of the movie. Essentially, the film is an absurdist comedy where zany scripting and odd-ball acting carry you along. For instance, the two doctors responsible for Bazil in hospital, after he was shot, avoid any medical judgement by tossing a coin to decide how he should be treated. Dussollier, as Nicholas Thibault de Fenouillet, one of the weapon dealers, has the hobby of collecting body parts of key historical figures, the latest goal in his life being to acquire one of Mussolini’s eyes. He is already the proud owner of one of Matisse’s fingers.
The performances all round are excellent, particularly Dany Boon, whose acting style fluctuates somewhere between Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati. Eccentricities abound, and there are some very unusual special effects in the way in which the members of Bazil’s new family use their tools of trade. Ropes, metal objects, burnt-out cars, human cannons, fake suitcases, pulleys, car magnets, and fishing poles are all employed effectively to bring the two industrialists to grief.
The film has excellent French slapstick, although it tries too hard at times to charm. Overall, Jean-Pierre Jeunet gives us a highly entertaining film that is very enjoyable, characteristically unpredictable, and always inventive. It doesn’t quite scale the creative heights of “Delicatessen”, but it goes some distance towards getting there.
Sony Pictures Out April 1, 2010
Sony Pictures Out April 1, 2010
Peter W Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.