Patrice Leconte’s adaptation of Jean Teulé’s novel The Suicide Shop (2006) evokes a healthy blend of Tim Burton and The Addams Family (1964-1966). Leconte’s film is set in a near apocalyptic version of France where recession is driving suicide rates through the roof and causing an increased workload for the law enforcement bodies. The police, having had enough of cleaning up the bodies, outlaw suicide in public with the penalty of a fine for the family if the suicide attempt succeeds, or for the perpetrator if it fails. Despite the economic downturn, one shop remains prosperous: the Tuvache family’s suicide shop, which offers suicide aids that guarantee a successful end to customers’ lives or their money back. The shop is a bright light in a dismal setting. Yet even within this family, who revel in the macabre and would have it no other way, disaster awaits. Surprisingly, that disaster comes in the form of newborn Alan, who remains constantly happy and positive about life, despite his family’s insistence that he frowns. It is Alan that we are most drawn to and who provides the juxtaposition for the film’s black comedy.
Leconte has previous experience when it comes to black comedy. However, The Suicide Shop is his first foray into the animation. It is this visual element that is perhaps the true success of the film. From the skeleton door chimes to the exotic array of life-taking paraphernalia, the screen is filled with superb displays of visual art. The 3D aspect of the film is also an unusual success. Leconte has used it subtly, in perhaps the only environment in which 3D should thrive, cartoons. Particular stand-outs include a Rorschach ink-blot sequence and the balloon-filled finale. The use of colour also stands out since everything, with the exception of the shop and its owners, is entirely greyscale, but this is after all a society that seeks its own demise. The Tuvache family themselves are bright and vibrant in comparison, excluding son Vincent whose character seems resigned to the background. The animation suits its subject well and demonstrates Leconte’s experience as a comic strip writer.
Putting the visuals to one side, the rest of the film is a moderate success. It moves along at a reasonable pace with a slight drag in the final third. The script is well-written with frequent, but measured, macabre word-play which will elicit a chuckle. Some may grow tired of this. However, it is between the gags that the script loses its momentum. Leconte attempts to fill this gap with a significant amount of musical numbers, to varying degrees of success. The Tuvache family’s welcome to the shop and Alan’s solo number on his school bus work particularly well, but a handful of those towards the end of the film seem poorly executed. A dance number involving Alan and his friends watching while his sister dances to “Oriental music” in the nude comes across as slightly disturbing, despite its charming intentions. This scene in fact heralds a more optimistic note for the film, which may well be an uncomfortable tone for Leconte, thus perhaps explaining the dragging that occurs after this point.
The nude sister scene and the suicide subject matter should re-enforce the fact that this is not your typical animated film. The theme of recession leading to depression (rhyme intended) will undoubtedly ring bells with the current audience and the film’s message to “look on the bright side of life” is well told. While Leconte does not achieve the storytelling success of the aforementioned Burton, The Suicide Shop will sit nicely within his oeuvre and is hopefully a stepping stone to further animated work. On the visuals alone, the film is a must-see. However, be prepared to enjoy these at the time and to forget soon after.