If you have failed in life, there is still hope…to succeed in death, that is. That's the height of encouragement for characters in the beginning of the acclaimed cinematic adaptation of Jean Teule's novel, The Suicide Shop / Le magasin des suicides (2006), an animation that needed the vision of French director Patrice Leconte (Les Bronzes, The Hairdresser's Husband) to come into shape,as well as the collective efforts of four different creative teams to be completed. And it finally was, after four years of labor, just in time for the 2012 Cannes festival, where it was labeled "a morbid musical" to be kept out of the reach of children.
Death costs. Especially if you're a picky mortal that wants to bid farewell to a frustratingly imperfect existence in a gloomy, apocalyptic town of the near future, where commiting suicide is as common as brushing your teeth. But, alas, in Teule's world, one cannot just throw oneself under the wheels of a random car, since dying on a public road is strictly forbidden by the law and one might even get a ticket for it!
(Mis)fortunately, where there's a will, there's a way….and a price, of course, in a certain shop, especially designed to meet all of the wackiest, most eccentric expectations, as far as ars moriendi goes, of the tortured souls discovering yet another manner of expressing their democratic freedom of choice….and spending their money. But worry not: the motto of this Suicide Shop is 'Death or reimbursement', plus, they have special deductions on Valentine's Day and other official celebrations, should you decide you want to buy one of their "put you out of your misery" products.
If you have your heart set on a- let's say- feminine approach, there is always poison, and this does not refer to the Dior perfume, although the bottle is equally as shiny and appealing; if you want a more manly way of going, then the shop owner, Mr. Mishima Touvache, would be more than happy to provide you with a special seppuku sword- and yes, his name does allude toYukio Mishima, the Japanese writer who committed suicide. In fact, the Touvache family's next-of-kin is death, by name and surname: each of the members, Mishima, Marylin, Vincent allude to famous characters that decided to end life in their own terms.
All, except for one, namely Alain, the youngest of the Suicide Shop squad. The black (or should it be white?) sheep of the family is, in this case, a smiling, relaxed, bubbly boy that obstinately refuses to be sad or become upset by any given reason under the (almost absent) Sun of his city. And his smile just won't fade, nor will his good humor, threatening to balance the unbalance of his fellow citizens and thus ruin the family business.
The choice for a noir animation to make the transition of the story from the book to the screen was most definitely an inspired one, even if the characters borrow a little too much from the classics of the genre, such as Burton's films or the Addams family. This particular type of animation, 2D stereoscopic, has the incredible, almost tangible feel to it: characters seem to pop-up from the background, much like the cut-out pieces that leap out from graphic novels.
And the beautiful, bleak irony, together with the modern fable aura of the story that doesn't stray much from real, contemporary issues are emphasized in a delightful, visually enchanting manner.
But much of the story's depth has been altered by the changes in the narrative, the ending in particular (Alain's sacrifice in the book is a key aspect that was excluded and adapted to go along the lines of a more commercially succesful end to the movie) as well as by the awful songs that only manage to annoy – the adaptation would have served its purpose very well even without the dull tunes.
Also, the change in tone, from negative to positive, is constructed so that the first one is such a scrumptious, brilliantly set example of raw, dark humor, with all its perks for the viewer, that the second one simply doesn't manage to live up to it, in both visual and dialogue terms. We all know it's better to be happy than sad, better to be alive than dead- but by The Suicide Shop's way of setting it straight for us, we might begin to have our doubts…