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Bigbug (2022): Jeunet leaves Amélietown and Pays the Price

‘Bigbug’. Image: Digital Mafia Talkies

This amusingly weird film is a significant change of direction for the French director, and he has not been rewarded for his efforts.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s sci-fi comedy takes place in a near future where the world is run by androids, the Yonyx, allowing humans to live in an automated utopia where AI is needed for every facet of daily life. We are brought into the home of Alice (Elsa Zylberstein), a nostalgic with a penchant for old books (which by this point have become relics of a bygone age) and outdated domestic machines, who are some of the best characters. When the Yonyx finally decide to do away with obsolete humanity, these machines step up to protect the human characters, and seek to learn what it really means to be human, with amusing outcomes. Throughout, elements of our own society are satirised: the rise of AI, our growing dependence on technology, nostalgia, and invasive advertising. Even if some of the jokes are a bit on the nose, or don’t survive the cultural translation, this is still a funny film.

Having said that, it is hard to immediately put your finger on it, harder still to find a consensus of opinion online. (Although is that ever possible with anything?) This film is a perfectly serviceable form of sci-fi farce, and I really enjoyed it. The wider reception however has been less kind, many disappointed by this significant departure from Jeunet’s usual style. This raises a lot of questions about how we engage with films, and what we expect from filmmakers. Does every film have to be a classic, objectively brilliant and faultless? Can’t it just be a bit silly, without having to do so in an artsy way? Must a filmmaker known for one very unique and fantastic film always be pigeonholed into that style of filmmaking?

That film, hanging around Jeunet’s neck like a millstone for all eternity, is of course Amélie (2001), which I love. How can you not? A charming, unusual, and so intrinsically French film, it is the go-to choice for many when discussing their favourite pieces of French cinema. The trouble is that Bigbug is not at all like Amélie, something for which Jeunet has been crucified. I find this really quite unfair: must Jeunet be forever cursed to make Amélie-like films? Even if he did so, I’m sure people would still find some issue with those films for not being ‘right’. That perhaps speaks to a wider issue in our consumption of films these days, which is two-fold.

The first side of that is that no film can ever satisfy the expectations we take with us into the film. ‘I like this director and his style.’ ‘I love Batman and I hope we see x thing in the exact way I like it!’ This is natural, and demonstrates an investment, but the key is to let some of those expectations go when the filmmaker moves in another direction, and to remember that this is not your film, you are merely a consumer. The second is that we don’t allow films to be pure, but flawed, entertainment. While it can be fun to closely analyse films, and often we are rewarded for our close attention, it sometimes prevents us from just enjoying a film. Film might be the seventh art, but must we discuss every film for longer than its own runtime?

I recommend this as a fun, Saturday night film. It will make you laugh, and it does have some genuinely well-observed social commentary within. Get your fix of weird French cinema, but cut it some slack: it is an imperfect film with a rushed ending and a jumbled-up story. What I am trying to say, in brief, is that I feel sorry for Jeunet, who has produced a good film, but many refuse to see that because it was not what they expected. It is weird, and some of that weirdness doesn’t quite come off, but I still liked it. 

Will we ever let an artist evolve, or even just try something new? Why is this change always met with such anger? Shouldn’t we stop trying to claim ownership over someone else’s art?

By Jared White