Michel Gondry on Superhero Movies, Masturbation and Paris Attacks
It feels wrong to say that the man responsible for something as achingly tender as the high-concept romantic masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is only getting personal with his work now. And yet, French director Michel Gondry’s new comic adventure Microbe and Gasoline may just might be the wizard of whimsy’s most intimate picture to date. Drawing on his own experiences as a Gallic grade-school hooligan tinkering with homemade contraptions, he’s filtered his memories of childhood into a buddy comedy that bridges the gap between how it happened, and how he used to imagine it.
The title pair of misfits — so nicknamed because Daniel (Ange Dargent) is unusually pint-sized and Theo (Théophile Baquet) works as a grease-monkey-in-training — build a covert house-car for a cross-country road trip, and in doing so, follow through on one of Gondry’s last unrealized childhood dreams — as well as a heartfelt statement about creativity as an avenue out of boredom and loneliness.
In a candid conversation, the filmmaker and former music-video godhead discussed his boyhood fascination with machinery, the invasive plague of superhero movies, the difficulties of discussing masturbation with your parents and his son’s narrow avoidance of the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris last November.
This is your second French film (after 2013’s Mood Indigo) following a string of projects in America. Was there anything that motivated the return to your homeland?
I wanted to do something really personal, including memories of my teenage years. I don’t think it would have worked in America.
Is it difficult for a director to get a more personal project made here?
For me, it depends on the age of the character. I’ve been in the U.S. for 15 years, back and forth — my brain memorized all these adult dynamics in English. If I go before that, during my adolescence, it’s really French. It would be more complicated, not impossible, to change that way of remembering. It’s different. I’m sure I could make it happen, but there are many ideas that would be more complicated.
When you were young, were you inventing things like this?
When I was very young, I had made a little airplane with Legos. They had an engine that was supposed to go inside one of the models, a train, and I took it out and put it in the plane I had made. The plane started moving forward and I thought I had made a propeller, but my father explained to me, “No, it’s not a propeller, your plane could just as easily go backwards. It’s the vibrations pushing it forward.” It killed my dream. But I made many little things, and while doing that, learned how they work.
Later, I went to art school, so I never stopped making things. I had no knowledge of modern art, so I made these little shows using pieces of paper. It was like pop art, but I didn’t know that at the time. I moved from that little 3-D effect to animation, then to doing videos. All along, it felt like what I was doing as a kid.
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