Cast (voices): Bernarde Alane, Isabelle Spade, Kacey Mottet Klein, Isabelle Giami
Written by: Patrice Leconte, based on the novel by Jean Teule
Directed by: Patrice Leconte
Many elements are curious about the ambitious but uneven "The Suicide Shop" --an adaptation the acclaimed Jean Teulé novel--but that fact it was directed by Patrice Leconte, best known for live-action art house hits like Monsieur Hire, The Hairdresser’s Husband and Girl on the Bridge, might be the most surprising of all...
It tempts with a wonderfully wicked premise: In what could be modern-day Paris, the suicide rate has increased so much that death-at-one's-own-hand is more or less accepted as a legitimate solution to life's woes. The government has declared the act illegal to commit in public, but that's where private enterprise comes in: since 1854, the Tuvache family has offered citizens the services of their Le Magasin des suicides (The Suicide Shop), sort of a convenience store/boutique for those for who wish to shuffle off the mortal coil but lack the nerve or the proper accouterments. Well-stocked with razors, nooses, swords and knives, poisons (more than 200), deadly insects, and even simple plastic bags and tape for those on a budget--the Tuvaches feel your pain, and will gleefully sell it back to your for a substantial profit...
A family owned-and-operated business in every sense of the word, the Tuvaches--comprised of patriarch Mishima, his wife Lucrece, and teenaged siblings Matilyn and Vincent--don't quite know to deal with newborn sweet Alan, who soon grows to unwittingly disgrace the shop's mission statement which his sunny disposition and infuriating optimism.
At first Leconte might seem the unlikely candidate to direct, but he was a professional cartoonist before he became a filmmaker, and the style of the CG-lite film is wonderful--a little bit of Gilliam, a little bit of Burton, with a healthy dollop of Charles Adams--with some immersive use of the Z axis (the film is presented in 3D).
The upbeat ending--a variation from the novel apparently--is a bit at odds with the tone of the rest of the film, but suitably lets the defiantly sweet Alain prevail, despite his own family's homicidal fantasies...
A hand-drawn French-language animated feature will be a tough sell under most circumstances, but this one is so macabre it's unlikely to be embraced as a family-afternoon-out, and the forgettable song score might turn off teens and twentysomethings who are used to a few more power chords with their odes to death and nihilism.
However, patient viewers with a jones for the macabre (and a patience for subtitles) will appreciate the many deliciously twisted moments throughout: Mishima nevertheless endeavours to strike the appropriate parental model, offering Alan his first cigarette with the promise of further cartons to come. His mother suggests a larger, sharper knife to play with. And in one of the many twisted musical numbers, older sister Matilyn dances nude in her bedroom to the youngster's appreciative gaze as he encourages her to pursue love.
Already released in France, "The Suicide Shop" is scheduled to play TIFF's Bell Lightbox Cinema later this year.
© Robert J. Lewis 2012