The Science of Michel Gondry
If you're familiar with Michel Gondry's films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind), you could be forgiven for thinking the 44-year-old Frenchman is either: a) a pothead or b) into hardcore hallucinogenic substances. Gondry's skill is that while his kaleidoscopically trippy films make the viewer feel as if they've been drugged, he "doesn't do drugs" himself. He doesn't need to. His mind is naturally altered. Gaynor Flynn writes.
Michel Gondry's mind has fascinated people for years, and if you want to know what it's like to be him, watch The Science of Sleep, his "autobiopical" film (his misuse of English is called a "Gondryism.") Like Stephane (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) Gondry falls for women who usually don't reciprocate his feelings, and is an incurable fantasist who spends an inordinate amount of time living inside his own head (which is probably the reason behind his problems with the ladies).
"I'm obsessed with the mind," says Gondry in that sing-songy voice of his. "I like trying to figure out how the brain works and how dreams work. Not understanding [it] but [figuring] how it comes together." This was actually the basis for Science, but all his films have explored the mushy grey area between reality and fantasy, wakefulness and dreams.
Gondry's latest film, Tokyo, is no different. Consisting of three short films by three different directors (the other two are Bong Joon-ho and Leos Carax), it is about a young couple who move to Tokyo with hardly any money. While the film is based on a story by his friend, cartoonist Gabrielle Bell, the exploration of ordinary people with extraordinary inner lives is right up Gondry's street.
Like everything the Frenchman does, whether it's one of his beguiling films or a trailblazing music video for bands like The White Stripes or The Rolling Stones, there is usually a serious metaphor underlying the sugar-coated fantasies. For example: Tokyo is about a girl who feels useless but finds some satisfaction by morphing into a chair. "I think many people feel like chairs," comments Gondry. "I have felt invisible a lot. For instance, I was very much in love with girls and would be scared to be rejected so to avoid [that] I would act like a girlfriend. I felt like a chair because the girl I loved would talk to me about the guy [she liked] in class."
Rejection is also a recurring theme in Gondry's work. "I want to find a great girlfriend but they always dump me," he says with a shrug. "Somebody once asked me, 'can you give us advice because your movies are very romantic and we find it hard to keep a girlfriend,' and I said, 'Wow, you're asking me that? Are you crazy?'"
Professionally, Gondry has had his fair share of knock-backs as well. When he first showed his animation to people "they would laugh," he recalls. "Nobody liked my work in the beginning." Then one day Bjork saw a music video he had done for the band Oui Oui (he was their drummer), and asked him to direct the video of her song 'Human Behaviour'. Bands like Radiohead and The Chemical Brothers soon followed suit. "I was a little bit inconfidence," he says (another Gondryism). "Bjork taught me to trust my instincts more and intellect less. She saw my qualities before I saw them, so she really helped me be myself."
You can't help but wonder what the young Gondry imagined he would be when he grew up. Music was clearly a passion. His father ran a music shop in Versailles and gave Gondry a drum set as a child. "We were terrible," he laughs of his band Oui Oui. "I was not a musician, you know, I was a drummer. It's like that joke: when four die in a plane crash they say, 'three musicians died and one drummer!' "I liked people who are unique," he continues, reflecting on his childhood. "[Brazillian soccer star] Pele is a great artist because his work in football is like a geometric pattern. I'm not a big fan of sport, but I really like seeing that geometric [pattern] because it satisfies my brain. I was very inspired by those people who were the best in their field. So I wanted to be unique, of course, and loved."
Being unique could have manifested itself in any number of ways, but filmmaking "satisfied" Gondry because you have to be part artist and part mad scientist to make it work. Of course Gondry exemplifies this better than most. Conventional dramas don't interest him. Absurd alternate realities or dreamscapes are his thing. Sometimes they're messy or rough around the edges, but that doesn't matter. His playfulness and na