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Cannes: Michel Gondry Talks The Inspirations Behind 'The We And The I,' & Talks Criterion Appearance On 'Malkovich'

The Playlist By The Playlist | The Playlist May 22, 2012 at 4:35PM

Perhaps once regarded as a quirky, whimsical visualist known for his eye-popping music videos (Bjork, Beck, White Stripes) and his often pop-surrealist indie films ("Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind," "The Science of Sleep"), French filmmaker Michel Gondry has really challenged the boilerplate concept of who he is as an artist in recent years. He's taken on a tentpole super-hero film ("The Green Hornet" starring Seth Rogen), made a stylistically unadorned and deeply personal, yet unsentimental documentary about his aunt ("The Thorn In The Side") and another superficially quirky mainstream comedy that's actually quite the sincere and tribute to the joys of community ("Be Kind Rewind").
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The We & The I
One of the buses has a poster for "Megalomania" on the side of it, an animated project you were once going to make with your son.
Yeah, my son drew it. It's a project we started with ["Ghost World" author] Dan Clowes. You need material to show [on the side of the buses], but you need the rights as well, I would not choose "Spider Man," for example. I have no interest. So I might as well have something I like, so on the side of the bus is this project, and in my own movie I could advertise for my future movies.

You were on the commentary track of Criterion's recent "Being John Malkovich" DVD release and you mentioned Catherine Keener a lot.
That's true, [laughs] because I was unguarded, I didn't know what to say so I'm just going to be myself.

Some seem to believe you were supposed to direct that film before Spike Jonze because of your appearance on the DVD.
No, I was not going to do it at all. What happened was, [Spike and I] were both looking for a movie and he found this one. I didn't like any scripts I had read. One day I saw a video for the Foo Fighters where the ceiling was very low and Spike came to me and said it's funny the movie I'm working some of the seating is down low as well. So I had to read the screenplay and I felt that this screenplay was very funny and entertaining to read which never happened to me before. I always had boring scripts to read. So I was anxious when I was on the commentary track, but I tried to make it funny. I guess I'm sincere but would never express those feelings because it's very childlike and immature but especially in America where people always want to show that they are strong and positive. So I guess that it must be surprising to hear somebody moaning as much as I did.

There's a scene in "The We and the I" where the kids are playing Truth or Dare. Do they still play that?
Yeah. The kids actually found out a story in the film about two of the boys through the truth or dare game. Maybe it's a game that they wouldn't play now, they're older. But two years ago, yeah. They still do it, they totally still do it.

The We & The I
How much feedback did you get from the kids with the script and situations in the film? Did they say no, "we wouldn't do it that way?"
All of the time, in fact most of what they do in the film is stuff they have done in real life. I'd say I concentrated a lot of action I could do over a year into one bus journey. But everything was done from interviewing these kids in their world. Let's say for instance the scene with the water [push-up] bra. That's something that they fought a little bit because it didn't really exist for them. If anything it's not the most shocking part of the story. It came from a story from a friend I have with daughters. One was 16 years old and she looked very womanly and he was very worried. He knew they were wearing this push-up bra -- it's like a little cushion they put in the bra with water to make your boobs look bigger. He said to me,"I don't care because I know as long as she's wearing it she's not going to get undressed in front of a boy." So that was a funny contradiction to put in the story. That's the only story line I sort of forced into the film but all of the other stories were coming from them.

The use of YouTube, like the butter video for instance, I see a lot of news about that kind of viral video. How did you approach or research that kind of phenomenon?
I don't have to research it, it's every day in their world. I watch YouTube all of the time, there's amazing stuff on YouTube that makes you think, what am I doing? They have little clips there that are more powerful then any full movie because they reach everyone. There is a lot of trash on it as well, but sometimes you get a jewel. I didn't do research because YouTube is part of how they were. When we saw them they were constantly on their phone watching video clips, to a point it would be hard to get them to focus to work. So we had to ask them to put their phones aside. They get all of the news in their life through text messages. I thought it was interesting to see the bus has a small model of full society where communication goes on many layers from voice to voice, to text message or video message.

Main photo: Courtesy of our friend Eugene Hernandez from Film Linc who has his own "We & The I" podcast and video that you should check out as well.

This article is related to: Michel Gondry, The We And The I, Interview, Cannes Film Festival


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