‘Bigbug’: Film Review

‘Amélie’ director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest French-language feature, about a band of humans fighting off a robot takeover of their own home, was released directly on Netflix.

Imagine the rise of the machines prophesy made popular by the Terminator franchise, but done as a freaky sitcom that’s part Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, part French sex farce, and you’ll get an idea of the bizarro concoction that is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s new film, Bigbug.

Strictly for fans of the veteran writer-director at his most outré, this sci-fi satire is often more exhausting than inventive, dishing out a few good ideas about domestic life in the not-too-distant future amid jokes that tend to play out like relics of the past — especially those employing a very Gallic brand of misogyny that one hopes will be extinct by the year 2045, when the movie takes place.


The Bottom Line

Wired and tired.

Release date: Friday, Feb. 11
Cast: Elsa Zylberstein, Stéphane De Groodt, Youssef Hajdi, Claire Chust, Isabelle Nanty, Alban Lenoir, Claude Perron, Dominique Pinon, François Levantal
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screenwriters: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant

1 hour 51 minutes

Released on Netflix, Bigbug marks one of the first times a French filmmaker of this stature has made a feature directly for a streamer, though it’s hard to see how such a small-scale, CGI-heavy comedy would have ever been much of a hit in theaters. Clever at times, but also cartoonish and crass, it lacks the wistful allure of Amélie and the brooding dystopian hijinks of Delicatessen, which remain Jeunet’s two best movies to date.

Set in a cookie-cutter suburban home outfitted with the latest AI gadgets and gizmos, the story (by Jeunet and regular co-writer Guillaume Laurant) follows several relatives and neighbors who get locked indoors while evil robots begin to take over the world outside.

The company includes Alice (Elsa Zylberstein), who’s invited the very horny Max (Stéphane De Groodt) over for the afternoon; Alice’s ex, Victor (Youssef Hajdi), who shows up unannounced with his new girlfriend, Jennifer (Claire Chust); their neighbor Françoise (Isabelle Nanty), who’s soon followed by her robot sex slave, Greg (Alban Lenoir); and the home’s madcap android servant, Monique (Claude Perron).

Each character is an exaggerated version of an actual person, which makes the human cast less compelling than all the digital creations that populate Alice’s abode, including a snarky, retro-looking first-generation robot, Einstein (voiced by André Dussollier), a housecleaning device that looks like a close cousin of Wall-E, and a pint-sized cyborg gone wild.

The droids soon fall under the control of the Yonyx (François Levantal), a powerful race of enforcer bots that resemble RoboCops redesigned by Honoré Daumier, and who disdain humans so much that they torture them on a popular reality TV show called Homo Ridiculus.

Working in malicious satire mode, Jeunet envisions a future where people rather blindly become slaves to their machines, forgoing their freedoms for all the modern conveniences — a smart vacuum cleaner that picks up every crumb in your wake, a kitchen appliance whose sole purpose is to make perfect oeufs à la coque — until there’s no humanity left at all.

It’s too bad, then, that the people featured in Bigbug are such a sorry bunch, and without the pair of subdued teenagers (Helie Thonnat, Marysole Fertard) stuck in the house with them, you’d think that every adult on Earth, circa 2045, were a petty, sex-starved egomaniac.

This is particularly the case of the women, who come across as vulgar and ridiculous, whether it’s Alice engaging in dopey erotic cosplay with Max, Françoise longing for Greg’s digitally enhanced fornication skills, or Jennifer screeching about her lost tropical holiday, and, in one off-putting sequence, getting on all fours and mimicking a variety of circus animals.

Jeunet’s view of his characters, and the world in general, is dim indeed, which makes it hard to rally to anyone’s side once the machines take over. There’s thus little suspense in Big Bug, which drags on for nearly two hours, and the overzealous use of CGI feels slightly toxic, not to mention a tad hypocritical: Jeunet may hate what computers can do to people, but he seems to have had no problem using them for nearly every facet of this film production.

Shot by Thomas Hardmeier (Yves Saint Laurent) in the director’s trademark overemphasized style, with lots of wide lenses and Dutch angles, the movie suffers from all the VFX and greenscreen claustrophobia, making one long for the intricately designed, steampunk aesthetic of Delicatessen or The City of Lost Children, which used very few digital effects.

The goal of Bigbug is to show how bad off humans will be once they begin to move away from such original, handmade creations, relying on souped-up technology instead of their hearts, minds and limbs, and allowing CGI to supplant anything resembling the real world. Jeunet may have just proved his point.

Full credits

Distributor: Netflix
Production company: Eskwad
Cast: Elsa Zylberstein, Stéphane De Groodt, Youssef Hajdi, Claire Chust, Isabelle Nanty, Alban Lenoir, Claude Perron, Dominique Pinon, François Levantal
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screenwriters: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
Producers: Frédéric Doniguian, Richard Grandpierre
Director of photography: Thomas Hardmeier
Production designer: Aline Bonetto
Costume designer: Madeline Fontaine
Editors: Hervé Schneid
Composer: Raphaël Beau
Casting director: Pierre-Jacques Bénichou
In French

1 hour 51 minutes