Wednesday, May 1, 2013

This Is A Thing That Exists!: The Suicide Shop (aka Le Magasin Des Suicides)

Yeah, that's the stuff. Breathe it in people. This is what This Is A Thing That Exists! is all about. This series is meant for those special examples of strange pop culture awesome for which concepts like good and bad are ill-equipped to describe the sheer insanity therein. And have I got a treat for you today. It's an obscure French animated film from last year called The Suicide Shop, and it is simply glorious. Its a disturbing smorgasbord of dark comedy nihilism with all the bright colors and musical numbers you would expect from the cutest of kids movies. It is an epic modern day fable extolling the virtue of killing yourself, until we all learn the valuable lesson that living is better than dying. Because, you know, we totally needed a cartoon to teach that.

The Suicide Shop follows the Tuvache family in what I'm told is supposed to be an apocalyptic future version of France, which is meant to explain why everybody is so depressed that they want to kill themselves, even though there is no ultramodern technology, and this is just what I always assumed living in present day France was actually like. The Tuvaches run Le Magasin Des Suicides, a little out of the way curio shop specializing in the implements of do it yourself death, happily doling out nooses, poisons, hara kiri blades, and single bullet firearms with the welcoming smile and charm of any small business owner. Complications arise with the birth of their third child Alan, who unlike his suitably morose older siblings, grows up to be impossibly cheery and optimistic, so much so that his positive attitude begins to convince the store's customers that life might just be worth living.

This movie is, in short, the kind of insanely morbid and darkly stylish cinema experience that I look for every year and all too often fail to find. This is what Tim Burton would want to do if he still had the balls he once did as a director, a kind of story that nowadays will only ever be seen from a foreign country. By the first song (yes, in case you missed that, this is a suicide themed animated musical), I am instantly in love with this world and these characters in all of their grotesque glory, a feeling that is only enhanced by just how adorably upbeat they are about the most deranged and sullen of subject matter. The Tuvaches are something akin to the Addams Family if they started a family business and stopped softening their weirdness for a mainstream American audience, and while I would certainly not recommend this film to everyone or even most people, I would submit that their misguided joy would be infectious even to someone who found the premise of this to be largely offensive.

One would think that the initial premise alone would be enough to merit a place in this section, but no, it gets even more fucked up from there. Even beyond its brutal lack of sentimentality and seeming delight in showing depressed people die in horrible and horribly funny ways, it has all the uncomfortable moments you would expect from a movie free of the American impulse to cater to the safest and lowest common denominator. No more is this evidenced than in the patriarchal Tuvache's relationship with his third child, who the man at many points in the production seems to generally want to see die (though he is firmly against murder naturally). This is perhaps somewhat forgivable considering the entire family wants to kill themselves and only refrains from doing so because of their duty to provide assistance to others, but as his anger at the child's effect on his business grows, he skates just up to the line, feeding the young child cigarettes in the hopes of giving him cancer, and finally giving up any pretense and chasing him around France with a samurai sword.

And that's without even getting into the obese teenage daughter's naked fan dance display, watched by a cadre of neighborhood kids including the girl's youngest brother. I immediately cried incest as he lovingly gazed up at his sister's naked form, but I had to then remind myself that this is a foreign film with a different sensibility than I am used to, and to be honest it is actually a somewhat sweet moment, representing the boy's success at slowly converting his family into appreciating life. Yes, a young boy watching his sister naked in the window is what passes for a sweet moment in this movie! I should warn you, at least based on the translation I watched, some of the songs are somewhat lyrically incomprehensible. I find whenever lyrics are translated from another language into English the result sounds particularly strange by our standards of what lyrics should sound like, and this is another example of that. I must chock it up to cultural figures of speech that I'm just not used to, but it can get a little distracting. That is, if you're not distracted by the incest or parents wanting to kill their children so they'll stop ruining their assisted suicide business.

Overall, the problems with the translation are slight and forgiving a few moments where I got lost in the obtuse Frenchness of it all, The Suicide Shop is on the whole a delightful romp about a subject that one would never think could ever be highlighted in any way that could be called a delightful romp. The artistic style is very bold and stark with twisted human caricatures and a jerking quality to the movement that seems deliberately reminiscent of paper cutouts, making it just on a visual level alone unlike anything you're likely to have seen in a long time, and that's before the plot even starts. And as for the end, stay tuned for the closing credit sequence, as it is one of the most clever animated pieces in the entire movie. Again, its not for everyone, and if your sensitive in your tastes or not partial to subtitles, I would suggest keeping away, but if you think it sounds like something that would appeal to you, prepare yourself for something truly original and engrossing. Or just plain gross. Or both.
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