The animated French film The Suicide Shop is, obviously, not a movie invented in a studio marketing department with a target audience in mind. This alternately macabre and twee comedy from veteran French director Patrice Leconte (The Widow of St. Pierre, Monsieur Hire, Ridicule), about a family business catering to the suicidal, is too grisly for kids, or at least their ticket-buying parents. At the same time, the bouncy musical numbers with their contorted rhymes are unlikely to be embraced by any self-respecting Goth teen.
The film is adapted from a 2006 black comic novel by Jean Teulé, who also co-wrote the screenplay. In a grey and brown Paris of oppressive concrete towers and rain-soaked streets, everyone, even the pigeons, is miserable. The one paradoxical ray of hope is a quaint little old-fashioned back-alley boutique known as The Suicide Shop, where the Tuvache family are delighted to help customers end their suffering.
The shop sells poisons, nooses, rusty razor blades, seppuku swords and other life-taking paraphernalia, aimed at every budget. For a homeless customer, it’s a simple plastic bag and a piece of tape, compliments of the house.
The family member’s names evoke famous historical or celebrity suicides: Dad is Mishima (Bernard Alane); Mom, Lucrèce (Isabelle Spade), their morose teenaged kids, Vincent (Laurent Gendron) and Matilyn (Isabelle Giami). Then, a third child, Alan (Kacey Mottet Klein), is produced and he’s a happy-go-lucky misfit.
Mishima tries to do all the wrong things – including teaching his son how to smoke – but can’t stop Alan from being a life-affirming delight to all who meet him. Alan’s influence soon starts to corrupt other members of his family. On Marilyn’s birthday, as she stares at her coffin-shaped cake, Alan presents her with a pretty scarf. Later, he and his friends ogle her as she dances naked at her window.
Leconte’s interest here is more about consumer satire than existential gloom, and, in a deviation from the book, he pulls out a disjointed upbeat ending for the film. Otherwise, The Suicide Shop’s interest is its visual style (I saw the 2-D version, though it runs in 3-D in theatres), with designers Florian Thouret and Régis Vidal creating antique charcoal and watercolour urban backdrops, beautifully detailed interiors and insect-like characters, elongated or squat. In a tribute to animation tradition, from Cinderella to Babe, there’s a chorus of red-eyed rodents to sing about the folly of human misery, and provide sardonic encouragement: Life, the less worse alternative.