Tuesday, October 27, 2009

LFF: French Fancies

When it comes to whimsy and visual imagery, Jean-Pierre Jeunet pretty much has it wrapped up, after Delicatessen, Amelie and, um, Alien Resurrection. Now, in Micmacs à tire-larigot, he's tackling the very real-world subject of arms manufacturers. After naive video store worker Bazil is shot in the head by an errant bullet during a shootout, he finds himself homeless, friendless and jobless wandering the streets of Paris.

But, this is no ordinary quotidien Paris, but a sepia-tinted city of Jeunet's imagining, populated by circus performers and lovable rogues who adopt the down-on-his luck Bazil and assist him in his quest to bring down the two munitions companies responsible for his injuries, his father's death and untold miseries in foreign conflicts. This is a man with a dream, and the means to realise it. There follow ridiculous plot twists and implausible set pieces, executed with Jeunet's attention to detail and cinematic references. There is even a bit of romance between Bazil and a contortionist. And, save for some rather creepy voyeurism involving a security guard, it works.

Still from Father of My ChildrenMia Hansen-Løve's family drama The Father of My Children is also steeped in cinema but of the business kind, as workaholic film producer Gregoire finds his production company under financial pressures, despite his best efforts. Neglecting his family in Paris, he spends all of his time on the phone, attempting to cut deals all over the globe in pursuit of his vision of the purity of arthouse cinema. The film references feel a bit in-joke, with Gregoire locked in a battle with a Swedish auteur over rising production costs. When it all crumbles, the focus shifts to his wife and three daughters, who find themselves stepping into the breach.

In truth, Gregoire is not a very sympathetic character and the film spends far too much time on his endless phone calls and not enough time developing the female characters who, rather belatedly, emerge. It is only revealed toward the end of the film, for instance, that the wife is Italian, hence her desire to move the family to Italy, against the eldest daughter's wishes. The division into two halves feels a bit awkward, negating the emotional power of the film.

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