Michel Gondry is a director who since his debut has managed to stand out amongst a tsunami of contemporary filmmakers for the extremely innovative and “handcrafted” approach that distinguishes him. Despite being an award-winning director, there are few films in his filmography that have managed to emerge from the independent scene to reach a mainstream audience.
Gondry’s cinema, fortunately, is not the anonymous style having generated sporadic success in a slightly random manner. Whereas being driven by large production houses, as often happens, its fundamental work has managed to create a new movie archetype. In this new episode of Collyrium, we will analyze how his approach has changed the cards on the table of the entertainment world on the big, and, after the release of Kidding, small screen.
Michel was born in Versailles in 1963 from a wealthy family (his grandfather was an inventor of international fame) who allowed him from an early age to explore the deepest meanderings of his mind. Although the director’s childhood was an important moment, even fundamental to his poetics, the real approach to arts took place a few years later when he moved to Paris and began playing in a band: the OuiOui. The group records two albums and manages to get a good deal of success so much that Gondry starts to challenge the camera by shooting the band’s first music videos.
These are, indeed, these first experimental videos that point out the budding director from nothing less than Bjork. From that moment on, Michel will work together with many of the most influential musicians of the modern age, among whom we like to remember Daft Punk, White Stripes, Chemical Brothers, and Radiohead.
But his first experiences are not limited to that. Gondry has in fact dedicated largely to the advertising world, producing several commercials, in particular, the now iconic and multi-lingual Levis’ 501 Drugstore spot, which earned him the Golden Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival.
All these experiences find their realization in 2001 in Human Nature, his first feature film. Human Nature is a very original comedy that sees as protagonist a girl covered by hairs taking shelter in the forest, until, once adult, she feels pushed to abandon the wild to look for a partner. The film, which received fairly positive reviews led Gondry to a Cannes Golden Camera nomination a prize dedicated to early works. However, the real strength of Human Nature is in the team of filmmakers.
It is indeed in this set that the collaboration between Gondry and Kaufman begins, a practically indivisible writer who has undoubtedly contributed to creating those fairy-tale universes so dear to the French director. But mentions don’t end here. Human Nature was in fact produced by Spike Jonze (Her, The thief of Orchids, Being John Malchovich etc.), a director who is very often associated with Gondry for the often dreamlike and sometimes naive approach that distinguishes him and perhaps also for his continuous partnership with Charlie Kaufman. It should be noted that Gondry, Jonze, and Fincher are often united by critics and film buffs for their origin from the video clip world.
After this first experience with a feature film, Gondry’s next works won’t come late, in fact amongst video clip and advertisement production, the French director gets to work on his second movie, perhaps the most famous, the most appreciated, the one everyone knows: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In this film, we find an amazing cast made up by Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson and finally Jim Carrey, who gives us one of his best all-time performances. If you leave me I’ll cancel you, it is perhaps Gondry’s work true manifesto. It is a film set in a New York city emptied of its strong identity which leaves room for a fantastic love story, full of simplicity, tenderness but also brutal cruelty. Gondry makes directing so personal the film is covered by a dreamy patina which vision will appear to the viewer as a sweet fully alienating nightmare.
It is with this work that Michel Gondry receives international merit, even winning an Oscar for the best original screenplay (written in a team with the over-excited Kaufman).
Although by now an internationally known director, Gondry does not abandon work in music and will continue producing several video clips. For his next film, The science of sleep, the European filmmaker will make use of all his experience in the music industry to present us with a movie very close to the music video genre, so much so he’ll win the Cannes Film Festival prize for best soundtrack along with numerous other awards at minor festivals. La science des rêves, however, can not be labeled as a simple musical success, behind it there is much more, in particular, an unbalanced but very intelligent use of the scenography, around which the real narration is founded. If, in fact, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind one understands a semi-handmade use of the scenographic instruments, in this third film we notice a real unrestrained use of these means as you can also appreciate from the photos below. From this moment on, in fact, the director’s approach will always be tuned on this wavelength.
The following movies will always see a massive use of materials typical of the child’s world, glued and assembled masterfully to give us a new cinematic experience such as the one seen in the loosely inspired to Ghostbusters movie Be Kind Rewind which cast includes stars such as Jack Black and Danny Glover. In the following Mood Indigo, which for scenographic approach rather than its script is very close to a theatrical experience, up to its latest tv adventure Kidding, with Jim Carrey’s return in front of the camera, who is beginning to miss her after her depressive crisis. This television experiment (available on Sky Atlantic) does not go beyond its previous works, indeed, it is a perfect and balanced blend, so much so that it certainly makes it one of the most successful series of 2018.
Gondry’s cinema, as we have seen, has been and continues to be revolutionary for its multimedia approach that over the years has managed to consolidate itself, becoming one of a kind and embossed in the minds of young and old.