The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival brings big stars and major movies as it has in other years. If one looks hard enough, they might find one unusual film worthy of a cult following. Amongst them is The Suicide Shop , a macabre animated import from French writer/director Patrice LeConte adapted from the novel by Jean Teule.
The film takes place in the greyest city in the world, where buildings cover the skies and everyone looks sick. The film sets its macabre tone from the first minute with a montage of a pigeon flying around as people jump from building. The montage ends with the pigeon dropping from the street lights. Yes, the city is so depressing that even birds are commiting suicide. But in one alleyway is a place where people can go when they are low. In the one bright and colourful store in town, the Tavache family sells all types of products to help customers end their life. Mr. Mishima Tavache heads the store with an overbitten smile and a wall of nooses. His wife looks after the variety of poisons(Eau de poison, Rub of Death). Their son Vincent sharpens the rusty blades. Their daughter Marilyn…does nothing except get knocked off her stool. They have only one rule: pay before you go(“Where you’re going, who needs money?”).
Suicide is a pretty grim subject for a comedy. Fortunatly, LeConte manages a deranged, Pythonesque style that never comes off as mean spirited. Leading the madness is Mishima Tavanche. Resembling a snake oil salesman with a green suit, slicked back hair and a wide smile, Mr. Tavanche handles each sale as if he’s selling a car. It’s hilarious to watch him attempt to sell Seppeku to a gym teacher(“they call it Hari Kiri in slang”) complete with kimino. Just the image of an old lady holding a giant shotgun is worth watching.
Then Mrs. Tavache gives birth to Alan, a child in a permanent state of perkiness. Not good for a business that thrives on depression. The moment the kid is born is when the movie really gets hilarious. Just as the kid is born, Mr. Tavanche attempts to pull his smile into a frown(“It must be wrinkle.”). It’s really side splitting to watch the man get increasingly annoyed at Alan’s perkiness, banging on the walls when Alan whispers “Sweet Dreams”.
Then the film gets to the third act and trails off. First there is a FRI(Forced Romantic Interest) that comes out of nowhere near the end of the film and falls for Marilyn. It does result in this hilarious line “I would like to marry her, whatever her name is.” Then the film tries to make Alan heroic as he makes a plan to stop the suicide shop and bring joy to the world. One problem, the kid didn’t do much to stop earlier suicides. This predictable plotline undermines the macabre tone.
Despite the flaws, LeConte still manages to meet his goal of creating “an upbeat movie about suicide”. All in all, the virtues overcome the flaws because it takes a familiar story and spins it in a way that is dark and twisted yet refreshing and entertaining. In a way, The Suicide Shop can be seen as a dark parody of Family films, especially ones like Matilda. In the end, it’s a film where the good can be taken with the bad. After all, never had a film made audience feel so guilty for laughing and still want more.