Author: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Jeunet is one of my favorite directors of all time and he doesn’t miss a beat in this film, which is an ingenious delight from start to finish. The entire story is basically an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, as tiny, seemingly insignificant things, lead to major events. Our hero’s father is killed by war when he’s a child and years later the orphaned man is accidentally shot in the head by a stray bullet. The doctors have to leave the bullet in his head as it’s too dangerous to remove it, and he ends up jobless and homeless. He falls in with a quirky band of fellow homeless folk who live in a wonderful junk yard where one of them fashions marvelous machines and automatons from the wreckage. Other crazy characters include a former world record holder as a the human cannonball, “Calculator,” a girl who can at a glance tell you the size, weight, measurements, and distance of anything (her father was a surveyor and her mother a seamstress), a woman contortionist, and more. One day our hero comes across the two rival arms dealers who built the weapons that killed his father and injured himself and he decides to embark and complex plot to pit them against each other so they destroy themselves. All his friends help in marvelous ways, from the contortionist who is delivered past security inside a box to Calculator, who assists them calculating trajectories. As usual with Jeunet, the film is basically a series of sight gags — illusions and tricks and clever camera angles. He tops himself in this one, with hilarious bits such as background advertising billboards that match the scene we’re watching (winking self-promotion) and an explosion that’s so powerful it blows the clothing off a swimsuit model on a calendar. One of my favorite scenes involves a minor fantasy when our hero’s stuck in traffic outside a soccer game: he imagines the game’s commentators mentioning the “new rule” adopted whereby there’s a land mine hidden on the field somewhere, a ploy to add spice to the match. Sure enough, one of the players suddenly blows up! Priceless. Another terrific moment is when our hero has an “ah ha” moment and we hear the swelling orchestral music and as the camera pans we suddenly see a real-life orchestra playing behind him! Wonderfully meta! Though the story gets a little overly complicated and involved, it concludes the way we want, with justice served on the evil arms dealers, but the point of this film isn’t the destination but the journey. Every scene is a visual treat, and the performances are fantastic. Quirky, odd, and utterly endearing, this is a film I could watch over and over. Don’t miss this French masterpiece.