If you’re feeling down, the Suicide Shop’s the place. A Willy Wonka-like emporium of suicide goodies, it’s the one-stop shop for all your dying needs. For a routine offing, choose from drawers of bullets and hand-sharpened razors or, for a more bloodless coup, a glittering collection of bottled poisons. But if hanging’s your thing, the store’s got ropes like Hobby Lobby’s got ribbons. Those wanting a little extra flare will find samurai swords aplenty, each packaged with an elegant ceremonial robe.
And the proprietor of this sparkling enterprise – Mishima Tuvache. He runs the shop with wife, Lucrèce, and their children, Vincent and Marilyn, and the family takes pride in maintaining 100% customer satisfaction. In this charcoal-shaded city where even the birds have lost their will to live, the colorful shop glows like a beacon, promising dazzle in death where there was none in life.
The arrival of baby Alan, however, intrudes on the grim existence not just of the Tuvache family but of the whole city. A gurgling ball of sunshine, he refuses to be overcome by his parents’ bleak outlook or by the ennui of his siblings. As he grows older, his cheeriness begins to spread, Pleasantville-like – first to his friends, then to his family, and finally to the shop customers.
Adapted from a novel by Jean Teulé, the film is not so subtle about its direction, which, tonally, can only go up. The ending is tweaked in a way that radically changes the actions if not the motivations of little Alan, but it still tries its best to imprint a hopeful message. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t effectively convey that sentiment. The jaunty yet forgettable tunes at times add to the sideshow atmosphere, daring the audience to gape and gawk. It doesn’t take much to be a spellbound bystander, but that fascination soon transforms into the guilt of an accomplice, if a casual one. There’s one uncomfortable voyeuristic moment when Alan spies on his naked sister. That he also deeply cares for her and wants her to be happy perhaps makes the scene more disturbing in its sweetness.
It seems the filmmakers trade too much on shock and dark humor, though in crafting such a grim world, they end up with sublime animation. The Suicide Shop is worth watching just for that. But the subversion of such a picture is weakened by an insistence on a moral message that is conveyed through broad archetypes rather than finely tuned characters whose life, or death, really matters. Alan’s infectious good will and optimism brightens any canvas, but he never feels more than a vehicle.
The English language trailer features the same cut and voiceover as the French one.
Alt Title: Le Magasin des Suicides
Prod: Thomas Langmann, Emanuel Montamat, Gilles Podesta, André Rouleau
Dir: Patrice Leconte
Writer: Patrice Leconte
Cast: Bernard Alane, Isabelle Spade, Kacey Mottet Klein, Isabelle Giami, Laurent Gendron
Time: 74 min