2 out of 5 stars

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s (Amelie) first feature-length film in nearly a decade is a sci-fi comedy that calls upon classic themes and aesthetics of the genre. Jeunet’s distinctive and whimsical style is evident in every element of Bigbug, from the nostalgic set design and playful camera movement, to the waxing and waning romances. However, the film fails to provide a coherent perspective on the questions it grapples with. Characters and motivations are insufficiently developed, the world-building is limited to repetitive gags, and the film finds itself caught in stale existential loops about man and machine.

Bigbug revolves around the household of Alice Barelli (Elsa Zylberstein) in the year 2045. Robot technology has advanced to the point that machines handle all of humanity’s dirty work, from domestic tasks to home security– even in the home of vintage-loving Alice. She’s then visited by a seductive businessman named Max (Stepháne De Groodt) and his son Léo (Hélie Thonnat), who speaks mostly in futuristic slang, joined by Alice’s goofy old neighbour Françoise (Isabelle Nanty), her cunning ex-husband Victor (Youssef Hajdi), their adopted daughter Nina (Marysole Fertard), and his young new fianceé Jennifer (Claire Chust).

A series of progressively ominous newscasts reveal that an A.I superhuman robot called the Yonyx has staged a revolt against humanity. Meanwhile, the domestic robots, known as the Meccas, try to keep the household safe by locking everyone inside. Eventually, with the help of Jennifer’s simple-mindedness, a Yonyx (François Levantal) takes control of the house and attempts to arrest Alice and the others as “hostiles” for resisting the New Age of robot supremacy. The Meccas nevertheless remain loyal to the humans they serve, despite their exposure to this ideology, and even assist them in their plan to escape. The domestic robots are also in danger of being eviscerated by the Yonyx, who seeks to replace them with upgraded and more efficient models.

The Meccas, like housekeeping Monique (Claude Perron), grapple with their identity throughout the course of the movie. They’re programmed to be faithful to humans and, logically, long for humans to bond with them. It’s only when the group of robots meets Françoise’s malfunctioning “workout companion,” Greg (Alban Lenoir), that they’re introduced to the art of seduction and the power of humour. Although Greg warns them they’re not programmed for this behaviour, their misplaced attempts at jokes deliver humour through their sheer absurdity. The Meccas’ naivete and pure intentions make them more lovable than any of the human characters, whose more sinister subtextual motivations are noted straight away by Monique as her visual POV displays their thinly-veiled emotions in percentages. Used repetitively at first, before being quickly abandoned, this is one of a few quirks in the film that feels too dry and drawn out to be funny.

The show “Homo Ridiculus,” another running gag of Bigbug, is an interruptive broadcast used by the Yonyx to visually reinforce the idea they are superior to mankind. The show is integrated directly into the main characters’ lives when a Yonyx takes control of their home and forces them to participate in exchange for turning on the air conditioning. It brings to mind satirical sci-fi Idiocracy (2006) and its fictional hit TV show “Ow, My Balls!” In Bigbug, rather than participating in these shows willfully, humans humiliate themselves on camera only because a robot forces them to. Attitudes like Jennifer’s, who’s simply enthusiastic about her chance to be on TV, suggest that Jeunet understands many people are eager to put themselves in degrading positions for the sake of attention. On the other hand, her subservience to the Yonyx suggests that Jeunet’s true criticism is with the power of technology over human beings.

Perhaps the most engaging and thoughtful part of Bigbug is its romantic relationships. The awkward foreplay between Max and Alice demonstrates how manufactured passion in the form of pick-up lines and role-playing makes intimacy alien. It’s contrasted by Françoise’s steamy relationship with Greg who, being a robot programmed for companionship, is the pinnacle of inauthenticity. Her affection for him is met with disdain from other characters but is difficult not to sympathise with as a viewer. The romance between teenagers Nina and Leo is Jeunet’s sentimental refuge in a cast of frigid characters. Leo’s repetitive use of futuristic slang in earlier scenes is beyond grating, and it is such a relief when he starts to speak in comprehensible sentences that it hardly matters how abrupt his transformation is. Victor, too, has a major shift in motivation from a resort wedding with Jennifer to the salvation of his family. He takes little time for emotional reflection, so his decision to ultimately get back together with Alice (although obvious on paper) feels somewhat out of the blue. While the film’s optimistic and romantic ending could be criticised as exceedingly indulgent, the closing musical number is a singularly joyful cinematic moment. Despite the rather sloppy assemblage of relationships that lead to the final scene, it’s definitely a high point.

On the philosophical front, Jeunet ultimately fails to make headway. The film’s favourable view of technology that is still several years in the future for 2022 indicates that its criticisms of A.I don’t necessarily extend to humanity’s present-day relationship with technology. Bigbug suggests that the human race will hit a utopian sweet spot when machines handle all the household chores and are just human enough to balance sentimentality with subservience. Robots taking over the world and humanity falling to an ignorant hedonism like Jennifer’s is one of the most well-tread sets of concepts and worldviews in sci-fi. Even smaller boilerplate bits like laser vision bouncing off a mirror are such clichés that the exaggerated suspense they are preceded by borders on ironic. The film seems aware of its use of generic tropes, but it is unsuccessful in forming a fresh perspective that would provide them with unique significance.

FRANCE | 2022 | 111 MINUTES | 2:1 | COLOUR | FRENCH

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Cast & Crew

director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
writers: Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Guillaume Laurant.
starring: Dominique Pinon, Elsa Zylberstein, Isabelle Nanty, Youssef Hajdi, Alban Lenoir & François Levantal.