June 8, 2010


From my review in Taki's Magazine:
Micmacs is an extravagantly ambitious blend of Charlie Chaplin’s silent City Lights and Modern Times, Jacques Tati’s clever but impersonal visual comedies, and Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 caper flicks. It is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s first movie since his two hits starring Audrey Tautou: the whimsical Amélie and the impressive romantic drama A Very Long Engagement.

Jeunet’s last three films are pervaded by an exaltation of the pleasures of Frenchness. Amélie, the story of a shy, kind-hearted waitress who contrives elaborate plots to make life happier for her neighbors, became France’s biggest global smash, in part because Jeunet conjured up an idyllic, nostalgic Montmartre neighborhood as adorable as his star.

The Communist Party newspaper L’Humanité called Amélie fascist for aesthetically cleansing Paris of its countless immigrants, but diversity sells better in rhetoric than at the box office. Audiences around the world would rather dream of the Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec or of Edith Piaf than the 21st Century megalopolis of bored suburban youths nightly setting cars on fire. Thus, Japanese tourists make pilgrimages to Amélie’s locations. (Overly susceptible Japanese visitors can come down with “Paris Syndrome” when their infatuated anticipations collide with Gallic brusqueness; the Japanese embassy repatriates them under medical supervision.)

Not all Americans, of course, like the French. Historically, Franco-American love-hate feelings have been the classic example of the Ben Franklin Effect: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” After Ben talked the French government into bankrupting itself fighting Britain for our independence, the French loved us. (Witness their gift, the Statue of Liberty.) After we bailed them out in WWI, our Lost Generation loved them. By the time we rescued them again in 1944, they were resenting our generosity. Eventually, we started calling them cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Deep down, though, we envy the French their cheese-eating quality of life. 

Read the rest there and comment upon it below.


dearieme said...

"The Communist Party newspaper L’Humanité": I've loved that joke for most of my life.

Anonymous said...

For many years and up until very recently, the French have been more productive workers in terms of GDP per hour worked than America, which would seem the most reasonable measure of productivity.

How in the fuck is that possible? They earned slightly less but worked fewer hours than Americans. Last time I checked the two countries were neck and neck, but...how? How is that possible? Old money?

Ray Sawhill said...

"Charmedy" is great.

Henry Canaday said...

On French productivity: The French are smart, well-educated people. A smaller portion of them work than Americans, and these work fewer hours per day than Americans do. So their GDP per capita is significantly lower. But their productivity is high because only their more productive people work, and these work the most productive part of their days.

Anonymous said...

Audrey, what a girl. Whatever her, and his, popularity in France, it was the image of France without the Gaulic arrogance that made it such an international hit. Fair point though, about 'Being French'. I once overheard a French girl, with the healthiest hair and skin I have ever seen in my life, complain about not being able to eat good quality chocolate and cheese every day (this was in Guatemala). The American girls around her, bulbous pasty hefers one and all, gave her a look of pure hatred, which, to make things worse, she was completely oblivious to. BTW, I'm surprised you don't do an article on slow food/organic food/nutrition/obesity in gerenal. It seems to touch on alot of aspects of HBD and America, like different rates of obesity and diabetes between the races, or food as cultural indicators of class, and regional, loyalty, or immigration and health. There's lots of info there for a few foodie articles Steve. Put down the peanut butter and think about it.

rightsaidfred said...

the French have been more productive workers in terms of GDP per hour worked than America...How in the [f word] is that possible

Smoke and mirrors, my friend, smoke and mirrors. The French put, what?, about half their population on welfare. So the "talented tenth" on display in the stat you quote look good. However, overall GDP per capita in France is about a third less than the US.

Anonymous said...

By nominal GDP per capita the difference between France and USA is very marginal:


By PPP, it is significant.


OECD lists hours worked as 1777 for USA, behind Korea, Poland, Mexico (???), Czechs, and Japan. France is near the bottom at 1346.

According to this:

we get this:

Rank↓ Country↓ GDP
per hour 2009↓
1 United States USA 38.00
2 Norway Norway 36.24
3 France France 35.74
4 Belgium Belgium 34.88
5 Luxembourg Luxembourg 34.11
6 Netherlands Netherlands 32.79

Which, as I said in the beginning, is pretty damned close, and the USA only recently overtook the French. Norway has oil coin, throw that one out; so getting back to my original question, how is this possible? Diminishing returns on hours worked is one, but I theorize there has to be an old money component.

Anonymous said...

can;t you just put a thumbs up or down sweetheart?

Anonymous said...

Double the productivity of your workforce? Sack half of them. It is very expensive to employ workers in many European countries and almost impossible to sack them. Solution, employ far fewer workers and put the rest of the population on the dole.

Melykin said...

Why is the movie called "Micmacs"? I'm surprised they haven't been sued by natives or picketed or some damn thing. According to Wikipedia:

The Míkmaq prefer to use one of the three current Míkmaq orthographies* when writing in English or French. They consider the English spelling [Micmac] to be "colonially tainted."

*Mi’kmaq (singular Mi’kmaw) by the Míkmaq of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, Miigmaq (Miigmao) by the Míkmaq of New Brunswick, Mi’gmaq by the Listuguj Council in Quebec

James said...

Henry Canaday said: "The French are smart, well-educated people."

In France, it seems you don't have to go into the privately-run or homeschooling sector in order to get your kids taught how to count past five. Your kids can acquire a pretty good all-round education at a government-controlled French school, provided you avoid the glorified daycare-centers in the outer 'burbs of the big French cities, these 'burbs being where the rioting Third World yahoos hang out.

R. J. Stove wrote in The American Conservative back on October 23, 2006:

"Instances of French didactic toughness could be multiplied; one will do. An Australian youth was accepted in 2005 as a novice in a French monastery. Alas, though devout, he knew no French. Solution: the monastery compelled him to undergo French language lessons at an elementary school, where his early-20s self was daily surrounded by six-year-olds. No one gave a flying falafel, to quote John Derbyshire's graphic epithet, about how this experience would affect his 'self-esteem'."


Reg Cæsar said...

"The Communist Party newspaper L’Humanité": I've loved that joke for most of my life. --Dearieme

Oh, they love l'humanité. It's le peuple they they hate.

Anonymous said...

Of course, the hatred of France was orchestrated by certain neo-con interests in the media angry that the French (unlike the demented poodle Tony Blair), refused to go along with George Bush's disastrous little Iraq adventure.
The same interests still remember and are angered about France's horrid, dirty little secret, that by and large the French have managed to sweep under the rug, namely, the active cooperation (not the mere acquiesence under duress) of the French Vichy government in the identification (using public records),arrest and deportation to Auschwitz and certain murder of French jewry.
The French are deeply ashamed of this horrible little episode (perpetrated by a people who style themselves the 'most civilized and cultured on earth')and have over compensated with ridiculous immigrtaion and race laws that will ensure the extinction of the ethnic French in their own land in amere few generations - but that's another story.
Compare and contrast the French willing cooperation with the Nazis to the desparate resistance put up by east European states even under the most terrible of persecutions.
Hungary, for instance, signally refused to deport Jews until Eichmann forced them to do at the late date of 1944.

Anonymous said...

Re ethnic cleansing and 'Amelie'. 'Notting Hill' which starred Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, did the same thing for west London. It was also very popular for the same reason.

On the whole diversity is death at the box office.

Big Bill said...

Don't trust economic calculations like GDP or "unemployment rate". They are diddled.

If you and your neighbor agree to do each others washing for a reciprocal cost of $100 per week apiece (i.e. you swap $100 every week) you have just increased the GDP of your country by $200 dollars per week.

Similarly, each of those worthless credit default swaps adds to American GNP and American "productivity".

Last year's massive "stimulus" spending, which was merely going into debt spending money counts as part of the national "product", the GDP.

If you are out of work and run up a hundred thousand dollars on your credit card paying rent and buying Chinese products that money is also a part of the GDP.

Don't think that GDP has anything to do with "production" or "efficiency" or "productivity" in the normal sense of the words.

Last of The Anglo-Saxons said...

I haven't seem Micmacs or the other one, but I've seen Amelie.

Amelie is a birds film. A chic flic. Its the sort of movie that I doubt even the most metrosexual modern male cannot watch without at some point wishing that 'sh*t is gonna blow up', that a sweaty Bruce Willis in a vest will abseil through a window and gun some bad guys down.

Like Amélie, Micmacs is less a comedy than, say, a charmedy.It’s a thoroughly diverting 105-minute vacation in a France that never quite existed.

That makes me think of Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Notting Hill. Two tedious and (mostly) unfunny films.

Are Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Richard Curtis copying eachother?

Aiming at the same market perhaps?

Take a look at this:


I wonder if you found that funny?

I did.

The Communist Party newspaper L’Humanité called Amélie fascist for aesthetically cleansing Paris of its countless immigrants

I wonder if L’Humanité would make the same criticism if someone were to make a French version of Harry Brown, and just like Harry Brown have the street thugs overwhelmingly (and unrealistically for that area) white?

In a strange way, American film and TV may be less politically correct than European film and TV. If The Wire were made by Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Richard Curtis, would all the thugs and criminals be yeeha southern white boys?

An Englishman.

Anonymous said...

It isn't "Gallic brusqueness" it's "Parisian brusqueness". It's true that Paris is more important to France than any American city is to the whole country but the French outside of Paris are quite different. They even have a term for them - Provincials.

I remember going to Manhattan on business years ago when I flew around the country regularly. In a downtown Manhattan restaurant the waitress came up behind me and pushed me closer to the table so she could pack more people in. Quite shocking behavior that I never experienced in any other American city.

On airline flights I learned that the stewardesses uniformly hated New Yorkers for their ugly and impolite behavior. They were a breed apart.

We entered France from Italy to the south. Like every traveler before or since we had been charmed by the Italians. The people of Nice were indeed nice. In the Provincial towns the people we met were sweet, polite and charming too.

But on the TGV going north we got our first taste of Parisian style hospitality. What a bunch of a**holes! It was the same sort of shock that people from the deep south or Midwest experience when they travel to NYC and meet people who have made being rude an art form.


Barack Mugabe said...

"Diversity sells better in rhetoric than at the box office."
Perfect. Steve, this is why we love you!

ricpic said...

I suppose there are great French meals at the very high end, but my lumpen tourist's experience was that the standard bistro is uninspired and limited as to its menu. Also there's a general gray drabness to Paris and even moreso to the provincial cities. What the French do they do well (some extraordinarily stylish, if conformist, dressers), but I'd say France is a more conformist, limited and limiting country than America.

Anonymous said...

In a strange way, American film and TV may be less politically correct than European film and TV. If The Wire were made by Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Richard Curtis, would all the thugs and criminals be yeeha southern white boys?

The Wire is really the exception that proves the rule. Hollywood does portray criminals as overwhelmingly white, and disproportionately southern and rural.

Anonymous said...

GDP - didnt a Victorian economist exhort batchelors (try to picture Henry Higgins) not to marry their housekeepers? As Big Bill pointed out, this would remove the houskeepers wage from GDP. And this would be a Bad Thing.

Anonymous said...

Re Notting Hill. Am I allowed to point out that Richard Curtis is a member of a certain ethnic/religious minority?

He is also married to Emma Freud (great-grandaughter of the old charlatan himself).

Her brother Matthew runs one of the largest PR operations in the UK and is married to Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth. And as we are constantly reminded Murdoch is in no way part of any minority, no sir.

Quite a concentration of media power there in that extended family, seems to me.

Templar said...

Its the sort of movie that I doubt even the most metrosexual modern male cannot watch without at some point wishing that 'sh*t is gonna blow up', that a sweaty Bruce Willis in a vest will abseil through a window and gun some bad guys down.

Or as the Americans would say, "Bruce Willis in a muscle shirt/undershirt/wife-beater will rappel through a window".

Last of The Anglo-Saxons said...

Or as the Americans would say, "Bruce Willis in a muscle shirt/undershirt/wife-beater will rappel through a window".


I have to admit, I did not know that:

Vest = muscle shirt/undershirt/wife-beater

or that

abseil = rappel.

I have had the experience on more than one occasion where I have been absent mindedly chatting away to Americans when I have noticed that they are staring at me blankly. Whereupon, I've stopped speaking, there has been a brief pause, and they have asked me (I'm not kidding, this has happened more than once)

"are you Australian?"

fasfdasdfasf said...

I love Amelie. It is eccentric and whimsical like Harold and Maude.

French love artifice as much as the Japanese do, and at their best, make it seem natural. Style takes on the weight of substance.
Amelie has this quality.. like the films of Jacques Demy--Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Young Girls of Rochefort.

Jeunet is a wildly talented and ingenious director with the ability to infuse his films with not just big ideas but the smallest musings. In this sense, he's different from Cameron who fills the big screen with big ideas. In contrast, it's as if Jeunet created a device that spontanteously expresses on film the minutest mental quirks popping in and out of his head.
It's almost like watching the creative version of quantum mechanics.

There has long been a false dichotomy pitting expensive special-effects-laden Hollywood vs low budget European art films, but like Orson Welles, Jeunet amply demonstrates that a filmmaker of great talent can use all means--high and low, expensive and economic, sophisticated and populist--to make films of artistic merit and sufficient popularity.

Btw, I don't think Amelie was a huge hit because of lack of diversity. After all, some of the biggest hits around the world have been INDEPENDENCE DAY, GREEN MILE, FORREST GUMP(where Forrest meets a black gump), etc.
And french kids, like American kids, seem unable to get enough of rap and other crap. Diversity can be very profitable. Jackie Chan made several hits with a black guy.

No, Amelie was a huge hit because it was a wonderful movie. It was both heartwarming and heartbreaking, feel-good and feel sad. It had the qualities of a circus and a tone poem. It unfolded in a kind of dreamscape where anything was possible. It was gentle and sharp, innocent and sardonic. It was both fresh and ripe, cutting edge techno and nostalgic, real and unreal(and surreal). Its many visual wonders couldn't have been possible in the 50s and 60s, yet it took us back to the magic of Fellini and Tati.

The ending is bittersweet and memorable. Throughout the film, we loved Amelie for her childlike refuse-to-grow-up qualities, but she too must put away childlike things.. and grow up. It's a film that reminds us of the lost joys of childhood but also of the need to grow, mature, and let the past go. Amelie can't live her own life so she lives for others. Only by living for herself can she take her place in the world. But she will no longer be the Amelie that we love.

'Amelie' spoke to oddballs and eccentrics everywhere and to the closet-oddball in many people leading ostensibly normal lives.

And it had some very big laughs, especially the scene where the one Amelie messes with the TV signals.
But, the best French comedies tend to make one smile smartly than laugh stupidly throughout.

Of course, some French comedies are indeed smartly laugh-out funny, especially the Dinner Game.

PS. The French film Le Appartement was remade into Wicker Park, and it's one of the few instances where the remake is better than the original, or at least works better. Still, both are worth viewing.

afafadfasfdafd said...

Strange as this may sound, Amelie may owe something to the films of Yasujiro Ozu, where a devoted daughter leaves the home of her (often widowed)father to marry and go her own way.
There's an elegiac feeling to all this, a sense of traditional Japan quietly fading and making way for the new, yet the old and new are intricately and intimately intertwined.

The finest example of such film Autumn Afternoon.