As the famed adage goes, “this is the business we’ve chosen,” and when you’re living in a dark, depressed world, running a suicide shop is pretty good business. Such is the case with Patrice Leconte’s The Suicide Shop, a French animated musical with a less-than-subtle commentary about desensitization and enjoying the finer things in life. Featured in this year’s TIFF, the flick opens officially tonight at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The Tuvache family runs the titular store, helping people meet their end with convenience and individuality, while making a few bucks in the process. They sell nooses and poisons, knives and cement shoes, working prodigiously to keep up with a high suicide rate (one every 40 minutes) in a world of perpetual rain and sorrow.
In a cheerfully dark opening number, we meet the Tuvaches, who appear as distant cousins of the Addams family: the quiet, ashen son; the gothic daughter who has her suicide requests denied; and the buxom, bespectacled icy mother. Then there is Monsieur Tuvache, a sullen-eyed, pencil-thin, mustachioed gent with the deathly sneer of a used car salesman.
There is no laughing in this household, or any, for that matter, in this endless grey world. That is until Madame Tuvache gives birth to a baby boy, Alan, who has all of the unbridled and unburdened optimism, joy and purity a child should have.
Try as his family might to stop him, young Alan, with his bright eyes and toothy smiles, laughs, dances and sings — he even does nice things for his family. His boyish idealism remains unsullied: neither rain nor clouds can affect it, nor the death of anyone his school bus runs over, and his optimism slowly starts to infect those around him. Unlike his father, he is not in the business of killing people.
Even at 80 minutes, the film feels long; its clever concept and musical interludes only capture your attention for so long. It’s both funny and odd to hear about rules regarding suicide in this world, and the strange lines people draw to better help themselves cope with their own existences, but those curiosities only last for so long.
The idea that Alan will not be ruled by the finality of life and all of its hardships is hammered home without much catharsis or surprise, but the film offers some interesting visuals and engaging original songs that, thankfully, are not to die for.
The Suicide Shop, TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., 416-599-8433. Nov. 30 - Dec. 6