Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s work has always felt distinctly otherworldly, stunning and vibrant microcosms with immaculate detail and a zany, absurdist tinge behind them that transforms each film into a spellbinding experience. Amélie (2001) turned the streets of Paris into a wonder of sight and sound, awash with bright colors and warming humanity, almost sickeningly saccharine but too charming to ever feel grating. The City of Lost Children (1995) crafted a flooded verdant world of steampunk and mechanical mania, once again overcranking the rich, zany atmosphere but maintaining just enough heart at the core to become enveloping and wonderful. Alien Resurrection (1997), while a decidedly bizarre and often exhausting entry in its franchise, remains laser focused on its own vision and the tiny space pirate infested world it revels in, an entertaining mess if there ever was one.
Visually, his latest endeavor Bigbug is no different, a vibrant, saturated delight of color and production design, a retro-futuristic world of artificial intelligence-driven robot appliances and overdesigned architecture and furniture. It’s enough to grant the film a base level of forgiveness, a constant flame of hope that it will eventually become as grand and ridiculously enjoyable as the rest of Jeunet’s catalogue – and yet that moment never comes. Instead it fights its damnedest at every turn to extinguish that flame of hope as it cranks itself into an overbearing, heavy-handed, horny disaster of a film that begs to be brought to a conclusion before overstaying its welcome as a senseless piece of technophobic nonsense that says nothing before dissipating into the sunset of the nondescript city it takes place in.
It’s rote and contrived, a jumble of ideas and themes too haphazard to ever coalesce into anything meaningful or poignant, instead devolving into an exhausting, empty satire that tries to poke fun at our overreliance on technology and the human dysfunction that results from it, but even to say that much would likely be giving the film too much credit. In the moment, it feels less like it’s ever really trying to say anything and more like things are just happening repeatedly while the film hopes you imprint some kind of intent onto it. The film’s narrative centers around a mishmash group of loosely connected characters who get trapped in the home of Alice (Elsa Zylberstein) when their legion of robotic assistants lock down the home to protect them from an uprising of Robocop lookalike cyborgs known as the Yonyx. Alice begins the film on a date with Max (Stéphane De Groodt), but the house soon becomes flooded with a cast of characters who are so nondescript and bland its barely worth introducing them.
While the jumble of humans panic and repeatedly attempt to brute force their way out of the home to no avail, the android appliances who shuffle around the house attempt to design their own plan, as they have become so ingratiated with the humans they live with that they hope themselves to be viewed as human one day. Simultaneously, the Yonyx uprising bubbles and boils in the background, a tertiary story (though the film is so poorly structured it’s often hard to tell where the main focus lies at all) told mostly through news broadcasts wherein these hideous cyborgs have determined humanity no longer serves any functional purpose and must be erased. So the humans shout and/or attempt to sleep with each other, the androids attempt to be human by telling terrible jokes and analyzing human behavior, and the robots broadcast anti-human propaganda in the form a show called “Homo Ridiculus” where they humiliate and degrade people for laughs.
Bigbug rarely propels itself beyond these few surface level contrivances and never manages to make any of it entertaining or profound, instead a series of attempts at what could only be mistaken for something more interesting if you had fallen asleep while watching, which may be the best way to enjoy whatever this ultimately is. Its rapid communication breakdown and erosion of psyche within a lockdown is muddied by characters who rarely exist outside of a single defining characteristic, its exploration of artificial humanity is contradicted by the cartoonishly evil Yonyx, and if it’s making any attempt to warn about the dangers of an abundant reliance on technology it’s lost within the way it wraps up the robot uprising the film centers around. If there’s anything there, it’s hard to pretend as though it’s worth looking for.