From the creative mind of Patrick Leconte and adapted from the novel by Jean Teulé comes an animated French musical (with English subtitles) about the Tuvache family who run Le Magasin des suicides—The Suicide Shop—set in the early 1900s.
In this town, every person is miserable. There is no sunshine, no smiling, just people who are intent on spreading the misery around. As hopeless as life is, suicide is an unacceptable and ticketed offense, where your family is forced to pay if you choose to end your life.
The film opens with a musical number where we are introduced to a man who tries to end his life by stepping in front of an oncoming bus and a stranger saves him just in time, warning him of the ticket he will receive if he goes through with it. The stranger then leads him to Le Magasin des suicides, the city’s most successful shop selling poisons and ropes to help end one’s life in the privacy of one’s own home. Amongst the darkness and hopelessness, The Suicide Shop is a bright beacon of death in an otherwise ordinarily gruesome day, literally and physically.
The Tuvache family consists of father Mishima (voice of Bernard Alane), mother Lucrecia (voice of Isabelle Spade), daughter Marilyn (voice of Isabelle Giami), and son Vincent (voice of Laurent Gendron), who run their long-standing store. The parents instill their miserable values in their children, who assist in ensuring the suicide of each customer is a success . . . since they guarantee results.
We watch Lucrecia and Mishima welcome their third child, a son named Alan (voice of Kacey Mottet Klein), who is the embodiment of joie de vivre (the hearty or carefree enjoyment of life). As Alan grows older, his family finds it difficult to cope with his happiness and joy for life and feels it is bad for business, so they do everything they can to stop it. For example, his father has him start smoking very early in order to end his life earlier. However, this does not stop Alan; he continues and does everything he can to lift people’s spirits regardless of the people around him trying to bring him down.
The characters are Tim Burton-esque, funny looking with exaggerated voices, who sing silly yet witty songs, which were all composed by Etienne Perruchon. This adds a touch of humour to a normally taboo and extremely dark subject. The fact that it is a musical in French is fantastic and something I personally have never seen before. According to Leconte, “I chose actors who were not necessarily known by the public, but whom I know well and appreciate a lot, who are imaginative, vivacious and precise in the way they act, and who can also sing. I feel famous actors disrupt the image.” I felt from watching this film, instead of trying to figure out whose voice was whose, as I do in other more mainstream animated films, I was able to focus on the story at hand . . . despite the subtitles. The sad thing for me was I don’t feel I really got as much out of the film as I could have. (If only I was fluent in French!) I did enjoy this film, despite my scepticism when it began. I laughed, I almost cried, and at one point I was confused by the topless-dancing teenager whose younger brother watched on, but I figure, vive le francais! The film is unique, quirky, and has a really nice storyline, where you feel hopeful and happy in the end.
If you want to see something I can guarantee you have never seen before, check this film out. It may make you realize that, personally, things could be a lot worse. Le Magasin des suicides is showing at the Toronto International Film Festival on Wednesday, September 12 in the Ryerson Theatre at 9:00 p.m. and Sunday, September 16 in the Scotiabank 2 at 12:30 p.m.
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