Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Micmacs à tire-larigot (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2009)

The politics are, as they say, "admirable," but this is really little more than an '80s-style "save the store" ensemble comedy prettied up with aesthetic quirks and topical references. If only Jeunet wasn't so insistent on billing this as a "satire" (of what, exactly?) and would just admit that what he's really made is a farce, and not a bad one -- out of all of his films (and I include the Caro collaborations here), this is the one least suffocated by its production design, though his trademark combination of humanist sentiment and one-dimensional characterization is as misguided as ever. It is possible to make a serious statement about the military-industrial complex in a film where the main character drives around in Tempo Hanseat, but Jeunet lacks the moral / intellectual rigor to match his over-detailed sets, and the stuff about arms dealing seems less like a genuine stance and more like a passing fancy, a cause du jour. Decency triumphs, we all clap at the end and nothing changes, because the politics are not those of the real world -- they're merely part of Jeunet's hermetically-sealed universe -- and it's hard to fathom how any of his silly business could provide models, solutions, etc. (in contrast to the silly business of Lewis, Tati, Chaplin, Tashlin, Taurog, et al.)


Trevor said...

The part of this that resonated with me was when you describe Jeunet's politics as being part of his "hermetically-sealed universe." Of course, this form of political argumentation (i.e. designing a sort of theoretical world in which one's own political ideas emerge as "true") is a classic mistake; how many arguments are there out there for all sorts of outlandish political beliefs that are "internally" coherent and yet utterly absurd when exposed to the real world?

But what interests me are the aesthetic implications of this. I haven't seen the film, but I wonder if you would correlate Jeunet's storytelling "craft" with the way he constructs a world around his politics that doesn't allow for engagement with the real world. There are plenty of filmmakers who are quite good at creating believable worlds that people, nevertheless, feel quite comfortable leaving behind after the movie's over and done with. What is it that cracks the shell and allows the film's political material to spill out and actually become accessible in the real world?

Lately, I've been thinking about this with regards to a film's artificiality or verisimilitude. Perhaps this is a rather Brechtian approach to take, but some films that seem particularly "useful" (I'm not very comfortable with this word) also seem somewhat artificial (e.g. Romero's The Crazies, Hitchcock's Marnie), so they don't create a world that is hermetically-sealed but instead one that remains open, unsealed. One argument that's been around for a while is that an audience is drawn out of the film when there is something artificial (i.e. not believable) about it, and yet, I don't really think that's necessarily been my experience. I don't know, I don't have any answers, but I'm interested in exploring this kind of tension.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Sorry it's taken me a few days to respond.

I'm reminded of a brilliant line in the opening narration of Kautner's SKY WITHOUT STARS, a great example of filmmaking that manages to be both political and narratively / aesthetically self-contained: "This story didn't happen, but it could." Kautner acknowledges that what we're about to see is fairly contrived fiction, but, in the Fuller mode, it all has a basis in his own political anger / observations.

The problem with Jeunet is that he doesn't "construct a world around his politics" -- I'm not sure he has any politics at all, just passing fancies. He knows what "the right thing" is, sure, but he doesn't really wanna think about it. It's shoehorned in.