Movie critics rarely get the chance to be surprised. Even at top-tier festivals, where we're among the first in the world to lay eyes on a given film, the experience is almost always subject expectations: I hope this is better than so-and-so's last movie; X programmer says it's this year's big discovery. Once I've decided I'm going to see a movie, whether by choice or because of an assignment, I generally stop reading about it, to the extent that I've sat down in a theater not knowing what language I'm about to hear. But the true virgin viewing is a regrettable casualty of the profession.
One of the purest and most delightful surprises of my moviegoing life took place when I was a college freshman. My (then-)girlfriend and I took the train into Philadelphia on a Sunday afternoon. The area we chose to explore is now is full of hip restaurants and nightclubs spilling over with the mid-Atlantic equivalent of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, but back then, it was a ghost town; we couldn't even find an open place to eat. Since there was nothing else to do, we thought we'd see a movie, but in those pre-internet days (ow, my back!) the titles on the Ritz at the Bourse marquee were entirely unfamiliar. This, however, seemed intriguing:
It was love, enhanced by the feeling that we'd discovered this joyous contrivance all on our own, the movie-theater equivalent of stepping into a dingy wardrobe and emerging in Narnia. Delicatessen remains a personal favorite, with City of Lost Children close behind. (The paper for which I reviewed the latter has long since vanished from the web, but I'll dig it out and post it if it's not too great an embarrassment.) With Amélie, of course, I had to share, but only a true curmudgeon (not a dabbler comme moi) would begrudge the spreading of so much mirth.
All of which brings us, via the scenic route, to Micmacs, Jeunet's latest film, and a pointed return to the whimsical style of the earlier films after the melodramatic detour of and A Very Long Engagement. It's a delightful movie at times, a sentiment that predominated when I first saw it last fall. But months later and a second time through, I found the sugar high wearing thin, particularly with regard to the immodest charisma of star Dany Boon. The film's French title, Micmacs à tire-larigot, translates as something like "non-stop shenanigans," which about covers it, for good or for ill. (Side note: The title is a colloquial mashup, and thus mildly untranslatable, but I ran my version past a longtime friend with a PhD in French Lit., and she checked it with a native speaker in Paris. Vive le journalisme!) Micmacs is charming, but relentlessly so, and it starts to wear on you after a while. We can only thank the stars that Jeunet wasn't able to follow through on his desire to film in 3D. More along those lines via the good folks at Salon.