Michel Gondry’s newest movie, “Mood Indigo” (based on the legendary French novel by Boris Vian), is filled with many of the same fantastical and emotional tropes that have been splashed throughout his filmography: cloud rides over France, cars made of see-through panels, a piano that produces cocktails (fittingly called a Pianocktail). There’s also the familiar romantic approach––a budding relationship between two individuals (Romain Duris and Audrey Tatou) that reaches the manic highs and depressing lows we’ve all come to experience at some point in our lives.
It’s this juxtaposition between dreamlike and lifelike that makes Gondry such a unique voice in today’s industry. His shots are composed of images and props that come to life through stop-motion animation, while his stories often deal with the fear and excitement true love brings. Watching one of his films or music videos is like stepping into his subconscious––in my mind, it’s a crowded toy box filled with kitschy knickknacks and kissing couples––then trying to make sense of the scenery.
I spoke to Gondry about the themes he’s used over his career, as well as the sad afterlife of his movies’ handmade props, and his continued attraction to romantic uncertainty.
“Moon Indigo” is based on the beloved French novel “L'Écume des jours.” How did you balance what’s being told in the book, which has been passed down from generation to generation, with your own personal vision?
When I was asked to direct the picture and before I read the book again, I sort of put on paper my first memories of the book. When the screenplay was written, I wanted to incorporate my memories of reading the book when I was in my late teens. I remember vividly reading the scene in the ice rink, where the guy stretches and then everybody smashes on the floor. That was something that stayed with me for years.
So you were in your late teens when you read it…
Yeah, like most people in France.
What was the mood like toward the book at the time?
I think before [that] generation, there was a precursor of what happened in the late ‘60s in France, really to be against the army, just after the war. And that was a bit controversial for the time. But when the ‘60s came, that’s when French kids discovered [the book], and now it’s a classic. So I really have this personal relationship with it. I had never read anything like that, something that can be very dark and rich and creative but as well as [having] a lot of freedom.
Many of your films deal with romantic uncertainty––“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Science of Sleep,” this new one. What continues to draw you to that particular subject?
I think this is a very romantic movie, but it doesn’t shy away to be dark at the end. I think there’s a lot of kid love, but once Chloe is dead, there should be nothing left. In fact, the mouse gets killed at the end of the book. We couldn’t kill the mouse. It was just too hard. It seemed like Boris Vian wanted nothing to be left at the end of the book. That was sort of a very dark idea, but I think when you’re different you like scenes that are very dark. Maybe because you’re just going from reading children’s stories about happy endings and you feel like you’ve been a little bit light. And then you’re very into darkness.
I am curious, where does one find a see-through limo?
We built it from scratch. I think they used an old Cadillac with the frame, and then everything was removed. I think we put the Peugeot sign on it so they gave us some money. Only the front and back lights were from Peugeot.
I know many of the props in your films are handmade. Where do they go when you’re finished with the film? Is there a place they are collected? Are they destroyed?
[They are collected] in some places, but it would be too much cost to keep them. Unfortunately, a lot have been discarded. And it’s sad. When we do screenings, if there are some left, we can exhibit them. But it seems once it’s in the film, it doesn’t have to exist for real, which is a shame because if people like the film, they want to see the real object next to it. But very little has been saved. Its time is the film.
Have you kept any yourself over the years?
Uh, no very little. Bjork was doing an exhibition of all our work [at MoMA], and they asked me if I had any props left [from the music videos I directed for her] and I said “No, I barely have anything.”