The Suicide Shop: Α pret-a-porter of the human spirit
The Suicide Shop by Patrice Leconte is based on the 2006 best-seller French Jean Teulé. In a gloomy city with tall, gray buildings (all too familiar, and signal death from above), there is a little shop of suicide things in the corner.
With glorious oranges, greens and exquisite attention to detail, Mishima's and Lucrece's shop thrives, for no suicides are allowed in public. Everyone has to do it at home,and therefore all instruments of death must be prepared carefully beforehand.
However, all this will change when the latest entry in the merchants' family, Alan, is born. With an irresistible smile and the healthy behavior of a 7-year-old boy, the carrot-haired Alan will change the fortune of the whole family and the town he lives in.
The French Sylvain Chomet has given some really grotesque characters in The Triplettes of Belleville, but here the Tuvache family are drawn in an ordinary (if exaggerated) realist mode -only rats and pigeons are terrifying here.
Where The Suicide Shops revels is in its unveiling a constant menagerie of pret-a-porter death instruments, at a suicidal price. Some of it is funny and appropriately black. However, after a while, the whole death preparation business is getting tiresome to watch: unlike the impressing 2D relief decor, the characters themselves look too content to be one-dimensional .
However, the film promises a sudden revelation for Mishima. After a dramatic incident with the old Mr. Calmel, he now has to face that suicides may be good for business but unfit for living the good life.
Alan's simultaneous plan to overturn his families' business is simple enough, and leaves no room for narrative surprises. Perhaps the thin plot is the reason that songs are introduced in The Suicide Shop (written by Étienne Perruchon, with lyrics by Leconte himself).
They function more like Michel Legrand's songs in Les parapluies des Cherbourg than ordinary musicals: they help narrate the whole story. But still, The Suicide Shop seems more like a disjointed series of suicidal scenes peppered with good intentions.
Some of the scenes are really touching and warm, especially the one where the fat Marilyn Tuvache attempts an oriental dance striptease (too daring for an animated feature). Alan shines in every scene that is in, and the final cinema confrontation (with a nod to Marcel Carné) is his own way of taking revenge.
The Suicide Shop fits nicely within Leconte's oeuvre of humanism among despair. It is not terrifying or gory to watch (but still for adults). Even though it is a musical film about death, it has none of the mordant Sweeney Todd atmosphere. Yet its intrinsic warmth leaves much to imagination.
We simply need to know more about Mishima, Lucrece and their family to understand how the merchants of death turn into a lovable couple. A potion of drama would not be poisonous in this case.