In the greyest of cities, suicides are rife. The Tuvache family run a shop specialising in products for those who would like a quick end. The whole family run the business, father demonstrates products, mum runs the register and the kids convince the customers that their lives aren’t worth living. Into this glum family, Alan, a bright, smiling and joyful boy is born. Alan cheers customers rather than depressing them and not even beatings can suppress his incurable optimism.


MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The influences are all too obvious in Patrice Leconte’s The Suicide Shop, a 3D animated adaptation of Jean Teule’s darkly comic novel. There is more than a little Addams Family, a pinch of The Corpse Bride, some Nightmare Before Christmas, even a nod to the grotesque caricature art of Mad magazine. Which is really the main problem with Leconte’s first foray into the cartoon realm; his film has style to burn but no distinctive or compelling originality of its own.

definitely not a film for the whole family

So sorrowful is life in this foggy, charcoal-hued Paris, even the pigeons are offing themselves, as revealed in a terrific credit sequence that gets the film off to a blackly funny start that Leconte’s screenplay is unable to maintain. Business is booming at the titular business, run by the Tuvache family, with patriarch Mishima (unmistakably influenced by John Astin’s television Gomez Addams) spruiking his collection of ropes, poisons, concrete blocks and other paraphernalia to any and every glum Gallic sadsack he can coerce inside. His wife, Lucrezia, merrily works the till; their two morose children, Vincent and Marilyn, help out on the shop floor.

Their depressed but profitable lives are shaken by the arrival of a new baby boy, Alan, whose joie de vivre threatens to turn the frowns of Parisians everywhere upside down and, in doing so, derail the family business. Mishima does all he can break the boy’s spirit, including beatings, teaching him to smoke and keeping an emotional distance, but Alan grows into a beaming beacon of happiness.

French animation typically walks a darker path, both narratively and thematically, than its cheerier American contemporaries; the most successful of the genre to date, The Triplets of Belleville (2003), had mobsters, kidnapping and nudity, you may recall. But The Suicide Shop is darkly drawn comedy taken to uncomfortable lengths (and, parents, it's definitely not a film for the whole family). Apart from the obviously delicate nature of its self-death motif, there is also Alan’s growing attachment to Marilyn’s curvaceous form (he watches her dance naked by candlelight in one particularly odd, though admittedly lovely, moment) and a seemingly endless parade of sundry characters gripped by graphically portrayed depression.

Leconte also acts as lyricist, with Etienne Perruchon providing a collection of okay tunes. The all-singing-all-dancing finale ends the film on a high, with even the spirits of the dearly-departed returning for the toe-tapping good times, but it feels at odds with the underlying creepiness of the film (and departs entirely from the source novel).

As should be the case, the graphic artistry of designers Florian Thouret and Regis Vidal is the film’s greatest asset. Apart from obvious nods to modernity such as traffic lights, music and cars, their Paris exudes a timelessness that suggests the action may be taking place at any point in the great history of the French capital; the shop itself seems to exist in another time and place entirely. The application of the 3D technology provides some memorable imagery (the silhouettes of several falling bodies in the film’s opening shots, for example), though the characters themselves remain steadfastly flattened, like cardboard cut-outs in a shoebox diorama.