Imagine an animated musical by Tim Burton in which he would be totally unrestrained. Now imagined that through a European lens. That should give you an idea of what to expect from “The Suicide Shop,” a French, Belgian, and Canadian co-production. It is mostly the French influence that shines through such as in a scene where a father gives a cigarette to his son and tells him it’s good for his health. Later that same kid invites his friends over so they can look at his older sister through her bedroom window, as she dances butt naked. You won’t see this in a Pixar film. Oh, and did I mention the kid’s family legally sells means to kill yourself?
Patrice Leconte’s film, based on a novel by Jean Teulé, is set in an unnamed French city that is suffering from an epidemic of suicides. You can’t really blame them. The place is filled with tall grey skyscrapers, colorless cars, pollution, and a depressing amount of rain. Things are so grim a pigeon even jumps to its death. After you kill yourself the police leaves a ticket in your hands for your loved ones because it is illegal to commit suicide in public. Enter the Tuvache family and their Suicide Shop that fills all your needs if you feel like punching your ticket in the privacy of your own home. Their motto: money back if no eternal rest. Also, they offer absolutely no credit.
Mishima (Bernard Alane), a salesman with a pencil mustache and huge eye shadow, runs the shop with his wife Lucrèce (Isabelle Spade). Their two kids, Marilyn (Isabelle Giami) and Vincent (Laurent Gendron) help around with the merchandise, which includes blades, ropes, guns, poisons, and weights to throw yourself in a river. The kids are sometimes tempted to use the store’s “tools” on themselves, but their parents remind them that if they die no one will pick up the family business started by their grandfather. You have to admire family values.
The family balance is upset by the birth of Alan (Kacey Mottet Klein) the latest addition to the Tuvache family. Unlike the rest of the family, baby Alan won’t stop smiling, which warms the heart of a customer. That’s not good if your intention is to sell her poison so she can go home and croak. Years later Alan has grown into a blue-eyed hopeless optimist who draws colorful pictures of his family, unlike Vincent who draws dark images inspired by Marilyn Manson’s nightmares. The kid loves his family even though they don’t seem to love him back, and he cheerfully tells every customer to have a good day instead of the customary “have a bad day” expected from a suicide shop. Fearing all of this suicide business will eventually claim the life of every parent in the city, Alan and some fellow optimists from school come up with a plan to change things at the store.
This is one bold and original film. With a subject matter like this, there is an obvious risk of going too dark and losing the audience. However, depending on your tolerance for dark humor there is a lot to enjoy here. The songs are pretty catchy, even when they are about the best way to off yourself. The animation is hand-drawn and sometimes makes the movie feel like a graphic novel come to life, specifically when the camera is zooming through the city’s skyscrapers. It is of course a mostly grey color palette, but ironically enough the Suicide Shop itself is quite colorful, like an oasis of light in a dark pit of depression.
The movie’s message towards the end is pretty obvious, but it is undeniably true and a welcome cheer. Love is better than fear, suicide should not be an option, and as Monty Python said, always look on the bright side of life. Since this is set in France, another alternative to suicide is to relax and have a delicious crêpe. It certainly is a better option than swallowing poison and quite delicious, just like this film.
(“The Suicide Shop” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.)