Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes films full of whimsy and imagination. Most will remember Audrey Tautou as the irresistible waif in his modern classic AMELIE. Jeunet takes the same wide-eyed innocence and mischievousness of that film and mixes in a little HUDSUCKER PROXY and YOJIMBO and comes out with a delightful satire with boundless originality.
When Bazil (Dany Boon, JOYEUX NOEL) was young, his father was killed by a landmine. The tragic event drove his mother mad. As an adult, he takes a job at a movie rental store where one fateful night he is a victim of a random accidental shooting. Luckily, he survives with the bullet still lodged in his head. Unluckily, he loses his job and end out on the streets where he begins performing for pocket change.
He is spotted by Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle, THE DA VINCI CODE), a criminal who spent two-thirds of his life in jail until he was pardoned after the guillotine failed to cut off his head and was simply lodged in his neck. Now he is the de-facto leader of a family of misfits that live in junkyard. The matriarch of the family is Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau, SERAPHINE), a rotund woman who lost her two young girls at the County Fair and hasn't stopped adopting lost souls since. Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier, PARIS) is a supremely talented contortionist who has a thing for hiding out in fridges. Remington (Omar Sy, ASTERIX & OBELIX: MISSION CLEOPATRA) records lists of all the salvaged material the family brings home and memorizes French proverbs for amusement. Buster (Dominique Pinon, DELICATESSEN) is a broken man who dreams of regaining his place as the human cannonball world record holder. Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup) is a mousey young woman who can instantly calculate any figure in her head. Tiny Pete (Michel Cremades, ASTERIX & OBELIX: MISSION CLEOPATRA) is extremely strong for his stature and creates wonderful artistic mechanical contraptions.
While out salvaging, Bazil discovers the headquarters of the weapons manufacturers that made the landmine and bullet that changed his life so profoundly. The head of VDA is Francois Marconi (Nicolas Marie, THE VILLAIN), a slick and cruel businessman, who lives life in the fast lane. His slick appearance is probably due to his slimy personality. He brags to his investors that he doesn't want to kill anyone with his weapons, because injuring them costs more to the enemy. The head of ADA is Nicolas Thibault de Fenouillet (Andre Dussollier, TELL NO ONE), an old school man of wealth, pompous and scheming. He doesn't collect Bentleys, but the body parts of famous people. Bazil decides these men need their comeuppance.
At first, Bazil plots his revenge solo, but his new family wonders why he's gone all mysterious, so they follow him. Once they find out what he's up to, they want in. Turns out they are ingenious at the task. With co-writer Guillaume Laurant, Jeunet weaves together his plot like a great heist flick. It's like OCEAN'S ELEVEN, but with the humor of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin or Jacques Tati. The misfits' ideas are clever and comical. I absolutely loved their idea to distract the horny night watchman (Urbain Cancelier, AMELIE).
But what made the sequence even better was how the set-up was used. We are not sure why Bazil goes where he's going, and so does Elastic Girl who follows him. The set-up could have just been plot, but Jeunet uses it to develop the romantic elements as well. Bazil unintentionally disregards Elastic Girl at first, but a woman who can bend backwards completely can do a lot of things for a man… who is try to get revenge.
Jeunet's past in animation shows through. His villains are cartoonishly wicked. The film is gag filled and broadly comical. He makes it his own effortlessly. Even scatological humor has a quirky charm to it. This happens when the paths of a full bladder, a rainspout and a little dog cross. Jeunet uses the bullet in Bazil's had for some hilarious fantasy moments. A thought on an advanced version of soccer makes the game more exciting, but far more dangerous. And when Bazil has to steal a letter out of a mailbox, his solution would make the Bugs Bunny jealous.
Because of the broad nature of the film, Jeunet's anti-weapons stance is simplistic and worn on his sleeve about a few centimeters from his beating heart. But in the micro-view of the story can you blame Bazil for wanting some kind of revenge? And in the hands of Jeunet this isn't a death wish blood bath, but more like a Yes Men prank. I said earlier that the film is like THE HUDSUCKER PROXY and YOJIMBO. The latter for its spirit and the former for its hero's way of letting enemies destroy themselves.
Politics aside, Bazil and his seven dwarves… I mean… seven junk collectors are the little guys fighting against a powerful evil. In the tradition of silent comedies, they set out to make fools of the baddies. And they do a wonderful job, but they are weapons dealers and have guns. We root and worry for their safety like we would for precocious children. Bazil and his friends are having fun with some seriously dangerous people. I had so much fun watching each step. In the hands of Jeunet, imagination is more powerful than the sword.