Tag Archives: Michel Gondry

186. MOOD INDIGO (2013)

L’écume des jours

“I like this way of seeing the world, the fact that everything is re-created and everything is possible in this world. It’s not from our time, it’s not the past or the future, it’s just sort of a science fiction of present day.”–Michel Gondry on Mood Indigo

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Roamin Duris, Audrey Tautou, Omar Sy, Gad Elmaleh, Aïssa Maïga

PLOT: Colin, an independently wealthy inventor of gadgets like a piano that mixes a cocktail based on the tune played on it, meets the enchanting Chloe at a poodle’s birthday party, and the couple soon marry. His best friend Chick, meanwhile, is pursuing a romance of his own with his cook’s sister, while simultaneously battling an addiction to the work of celebrity philosopher Jean-Sol Partre. When Chloe falls victim to an unlikely infection—a water-lily grows in her lung—her medical bills bankrupt the couple, and Colin must take a job to pay for her treatment.

Still from Mood Indigo (2013)
BACKGROUND:

  • Mood Indigo is an adaptation of polymath Boris Vian’s 1947 novel “L’Écume des jours” (translated as “Froth on the Daydream,” “The Foam of Days,” or “Foam of the Daze“). The novel was adapted for film in the 1968 French effort Spray of the Days and 2001’s Chloe (from Japan).
  • Among other talents, Vian was a musician and jazz critic, and Duke Ellington was godfather to Vian’s daughter. The movie’s English title, “Mood Indigo,” comes from a famous Ellington number. Although Duke appears on the soundtrack and his ballad “Chloe” actually plays a part in the story, the song “Mood Indigo” is never heard or referenced in the film.
  • Jean-Sol Partre, the writer to whose works Chick is addicted, is, of course, a reference to existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre was a personal friend of Vian’s. (You have to be awed by anyone who counted both Duke Ellington and Jean-Paul Sartre among their close confidants).
  • The original version of the film released in France ran 130 minutes. In the United States and Australia, the film was re-cut to run only 90 minutes.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Trying to disguise the movie’s off-putting surrealism, Mood Indigo‘s U.S. marketers favored generic romantic comedy images of Tautou and Duris making lovey-eyes at each other (including one weirdish scene of them kissing underwater) to make it look like a quirky date movie. In fact, while Mood Indigo is sentimental at the beginning, it’s far more focused on handmade oddities (including a doorbell that scurries about like a beetle) and nonsense gimmicks than it is on romance, which is an afterthought and an excuse to root around in the director’s toy box. We think the most representative image is the inhaled spore that settles inside Chloe’s lung as she sleeps, covering her handmade heart with a coat of stop-motion frost.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Whimsical but weird, set in a peculiar Paris that could exists only in the dreaming mind, Mood Indigo is like Amelie on surrealistic steroids. If had suddenly gone soft-hearted and been given millions of dollars to make a romantic comedy, he might have come up with something like this.


U.S. trailer for Mood Indigo

COMMENTS: Unless you have a high tolerance for whimsical surrealistic excess, you may find yourself overstimulated by Mood Indigo Continue reading 186. MOOD INDIGO (2013)

66. THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP [La science des rêves] (2006)

Mrs. Miroux: “So, what did you think?”

Stephanie: “I adore it!”

Mrs. Miroux: “Really? I’ve always found it rather strange.”

Stephanie: “That’s what’s good.”

DIRECTED BY: Michel Gondry

FEATURING: Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg,

PLOT: Stephane is a young artist and inventor from Mexico, a man who has always had trouble distinguishing dreams from waking life; he is lured to Paris by his mother with the promise of a “creative” job that turns out to be a position as a typesetter at  a company that makes nudie calendars.  He slowly falls in love with his next door neighbor Stephanie, who is also a creative type, an amateur composer and toy designer.  Their developing relationship becomes complicated and eventually melancholy because Stephane can’t tell if Stephanie returns his affections; whenever he meets her, he can’t even be sure if it’s in a dream or reality.

Still from The Science of Sleep (2006)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Science of Sleep was Michel Gondry’s feature fiction followup to 2004’s Certified Weird Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  It was Gondry’s first feature screenplay.
  • Gondry stated that the character of Stephane was about 80% based on himself (the other 20% coming from Gael García Bernal’s interpretation of the character).  Many of the dreams depicted in the film came from Gondry’s own dreams; the scene where Stephane has giant, cartoon-like hands came from a recurring nightmare the director had as a child.  In the commentary on the DVD Gondry also implies that the romantic trauma Stephane goes through in the script was inspired by a real life unrequited love.  Gondry also filmed the picture in the house he grew up in a s a child.
  • The director said in an interview that he got some of the inspiration for the film’s look from Communist propaganda films aimed at children.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The two would-be lovers on a gray felt horse with button eyes in a white boat with a forest inside, sailing off on a cellophane sea.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Science of Sleep is nearly a straight shot of surrealism


Original trailer for The Science of Sleep

masquerading as a romantic comedy, under the cover of dreams.  In this movie, it’s the reality-sequences that interrupt and inform the dream narrative, not the other way around.

COMMENTS:  In the very first scene of The Science of Sleep, Stephane’s subconscious,  Continue reading 66. THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP [La science des rêves] (2006)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: TOKYO! (2008)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Joon-ho Bong

FEATURING: Ayako Fujitani, , Jean-François Balmer, , Yû Aoi

PLOT: An anthology of three short films set in Tokyo: an experimental filmmaker’s girlfriend feels useless until she undergoes a strange transformation; a bizarre man-creature crawls out of the sewers and terrorizes the city; and an urban hermit falls in love with a pizza-delivery girl with buttons tattooed on her body.

Still from Tokyo! (2008)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: It suffers from the curse of most anthology films: unevenness.  Leos Carax’s “Merde” is almost weird enough to carry it across the finish line, but the other two entries, while interesting, drag the film down to the borderline.

COMMENTS: If Paris’ tradition earns it an anthology film dedicated to love, then teeming, tragic Tokyo gets a triptych on the theme of weirdness.  But even though Tokyo is top-billed, this exercise is hardly about the city at all.  The Japanese metropolis is depicted as too practical, too generic, for a love letter; it instead becomes a metaphor for urban absurdity and anxiety.  Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is up to bat first.  His “Interior Design,” about a couple sleeping on a friend’s floor while searching for an apartment, starts out so slow that mainstream viewers may be tricked into thinking it’s a conventional drama.  The character development and performances are good, although these particular people—a struggling experimental filmmaker and his passive, too-sacrificing girlfriend—don’t seem quite interesting enough to make a movie about, so we wonder what exactly he’s up to.  Along the way there’s a subtle and funny parody of a parody of the sort of pretentious art-school films that don’t really exist anywhere, but that people like to imagine anyway when dismissing the avant-garde (the beams from the headlight of a motorcycle driven by a skull faced man form a swastika, among other absurd jokes).  The third act brings a metamorphosis that lets Gondry indulge his talent for weird and striking visuals; it ends with a disturbing and humorous metaphor for depersonalization that makes the sly point that there may be greater things to aspire to in life than just being useful.

Joon-ho Bong’s “Tokyo Shaking” is the closer, and the weakest outing.  His story concerns a “hikikomori,” or urban hermit, living on takeout pizza in a self-imposed exile from human contact and sunlight.  It’s an interesting character and there are some bizarre incidents along the way, but in the end the story misses the universal pathos at which it was aiming.

The centerpiece, Carax’s “Merde,” is a change of pace in tone and an upping of the ante in weirdness.  The scenario involves a nasty man named Merde with a twisted red beard, milky eye and a shuffling gait who randomly arises from the sewers and makes an extreme nuisance of himself, embarrassing and assaulting the proper Japanese bystanders, before descending back under the city as quickly as he came.  Eventually his provocations go beyond the merely gauche and he’s hunted down and put on trial; his defense lawyer is a civilized Frenchman who shares the same physical characteristics and inexplicably speaks his language of grunts, whines, hops and slaps.  Merde himself is reminiscent of one of those socially obnoxious “Saturday Night Live” sketch characters that Will Ferrel used to specialize in, if Ferrel had been willing to play mute and push the character’s oddness to scary limits.  On the way to a mystical conclusion the script takes satirical jabs at Japanese xenophobia and the death penalty, and parodies the frenzies created by TV news broadcasts.  Fans have interpreted this strange story as everything from a spoof of Godzilla films to a twisted Christ allegory, and both theories fit the film; it’s that kind of parable.  Although Gondry and Bong’s offerings fit into the weird genre, it’s “Merde” that makes this omnibus of unease worth the watch for fans of the absurd.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a defiantly odd picture — its middle portion, in particular, directed by the always strange Carax, isn’t out to win any friends. But the refusal of ‘Tokyo!’ to proffer even the most perfunctory air kiss is what makes it so intriguing… Perhaps ‘Merde’ is just too aggressively bizarre, for no good reason. But sometimes a movie that makes you ask, ‘What the hell was that?’ can be its own reason for existing.”–Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com

47. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004)

“Nothing fixes a thing so intently in the memory as the wish to forget it.”-Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d …”–Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson

PLOT: A shy introvert named Joel and a kooky gal named Clementine with ever-changing hair colors meet and fall in love.  After a fight Joel tries to reconcile, but discovers Clementine has availed herself of a strange and anachronistic mind-erasing technique to remove all memories of him; in a fit of pique and pain, he decides to undergo the same procedure.  But as Joel begins the erasure process, he realizes he doesn’t want to go through with it, and he travels through the landscapes of his memories to find and hold on to the rapidly vanishing Clementine.

Still from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

BACKGROUND:

  • Charlie Kaufman came up with the idea for this fascinating tale and co-wrote the script with the help of director Michel Gondry and obscure Parisian performance artist Pierre Bismuth.
  • The title is taken from the classic Alexander Pope poem Eloisa to Abelard, which reflects a number of philosophical and emotional touchstones of the film.
  • Before Jim Carrey expressed a desire to play Joel, the likeliest candidate for the part was Nicolas Cage (!)
  • The scene where Mark Ruffalo scares Kirsten Dunst is completely genuine: director Gondry asked that before each take that Ruffalo hide in a different spot to really scare the pants off her!

INDELIBLE IMAGE: This bold and invigorating trip into the subconscious has a myriad of off-the-wall images that are sure to stick in your head. From faceless creatures to over-sized environments to entire train stations being drained of its inhabitants due to memory loss, there is a lot of weirdness going on here.  But as far as an indelible image, the one I pick is the simple scene in which Joel remembers when he and Clementine snuggle beneath an old ratty blanket and he consoles her after she recounts an intimate and revealing story about a doll she named after herself as a child.  As the memory seeps out of his head and Clementine’s body disappears, Joel crawls through the ratty blanket of his imagination begging to be able to hold on to this particular memory.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Any film birthed from the madcap imagination of Charlie

Original trailer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Kaufman and surreal visualist Michel Gondry has at least a pretty good shot of being kind of different.  But this movie in particular, a film about memories literally being erased from people like they were organic hard drives, really takes Kaufman’s dry strangeness and Gondry’s unhinged wild-eyed wonderment and melds it to a delightful perfection that muses on life while simultaneously compelling us with images of collapsing landscapes and Jim Carrey bathing in a sink.

COMMENTS: Some would say that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a movie about Continue reading 47. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004)