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Michel Gondry Talks Making Sense Of Noam Chomsky In New Animated Doc, Cutting ‘Mood Indigo’ & More

Interviews
by Charlie Schmidlin
November 20, 2013 10:28 AM
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You showed the film to him?
Yeah, when I was finished, yes. It was the only film he watched about him, because he's doesn't watch movies very much. He really liked it, though.

I was wondering, since you’re in the process of adapting Philip K. Dick’s novel “Ubik,” did you try to glean any inspiration from Chomsky with his views on surveillance states and wiretapping?
Well, I think they're probably both influenced by George Orwell. Chomsky referenced Orwell more than many philosophers, so you could see the parallel, but I think Chomsky is a much more rational person than Philip K. Dick. Chomsky doesn't take drugs at all, so it's very different [laughs]. I'm trying to avoid surveillance and that because it's been done many times in movies; when I think of “Ubik” I try to see other aspects. Of course there is the idea we're leaking words, but the film is more about all the ways that corporations are making all the decisions that we live by, unfortunately. In “Ubik” there is that—it's not about states or government, it's about corporations.

"[The idea to cut 'Mood Indigo' came mostly from me. I tried a more fluid way to put it together. It was not a process that I wanted to resist."

You’re going to attempt to put a personal face on corporations?
I'll try. Especially when there's fictional work, which is never as strong or scary as documentary or reality, in movies I rather want to explore more personal things, whether they’re sentimental or memories, experiences—things that I can relate more to, and talk more about.

What was your main relation to “Mood Indigo”?
Well, it's a novel that's very prominent in France, and one that every adolescent reads. Me and my son both have, so when I was asked to direct an adaptation that was the main reason.

Since it premiered in France, the film has been cut down for an international release by 36 minutes. Who did that decision come from, and why?
It came mostly from me. I had more time to look into editing, and so I tried a more fluid way to put it together. It was not a process that I wanted to resist.

That’s good to hear, because whenever a film is slimmed down the knee-jerk reaction is to point to the distributor or studio as causing it, like what has happened recently with Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer.”
Is it true for his case?

It appears that way.
I mean it could be true sometimes, but then you could also find something that you like better. For instance, I like the original version of “Blade Runner” better than the Redux, which was longer and heavier. Sometimes you self-indulge too much in the beginning or after when you have too much freedom, but it depends. For instance, I fought so we could have the shorter version to submit for the French Cesar. They wanted us to put the longer version out on DVD for the voters, but I was more for this new one.

In a case like that, how do you reconfigure the film when you’re cutting it down?
You have some ideas: if you try to cut directly from one point to another and it works well, that generally mean it's better. I streamlined the film by cutting off the side stories a bit. The book is really talking about four or six characters so I spent less time in this new edit with the side characters.

I was interested in a statement you made recently when you said, Roman Polanski depicts Paris better than any French director. If that’s accurate, why do you think something like “Frantic” achieves that?
“Frantic” was very reflective of Paris, very accurate, but I was thinking more of “The Tenant” which was shot in Paris in ’76, I think. In my memory it reflects Paris very well, but then again I think Polanski was Parisian for a good while.

So you think perhaps an outsider’s perspective lends itself better to capturing it?
It depends, because when I watched “Last Tango in Paris” I didn't feel that—I felt it's just the typical Paris that you want to see in a movie. But Polanski, he was talking about the pressure of neighbors and the way they're people you want to be friendly with, and how the building can make you paranoid. I lived this: I was living in a similar building and it was the same thing, where you feel that you can’t be yourself. So that was very accurate of Paris for me.

It’s interesting as well because for your last few films, you’ve integrated yourself into different communities and captured it fairly well.
When you're an outsider, you pay more attention because you don't want to sound or look fake, so in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" I spent a lot of time researching. I didn't know New York very well, but I spent 4 or 5 months just taking pictures of apartments and figuring out how people were living. When I did “Be Kind Rewind” that was in Passaic, New Jersey where I think Bruce Springsteen grew up. But I really wanted to reflect the reality. Half of the people in that movie are part of the neighborhood, so we had to fight the union and find ways to incorporate them because they weren't in the union of actors. For 'Block Party,' I initially was supposed to shoot in Central Park, and then I said, “No, let's go to Brooklyn since that's where most of those musicians come from, and it's going to be much more authentic.”

It was complicated because the police were freaking out because of the safety and then it paid off. So being an outsider of the African American community I feel very respectful, I don't want to push for cliché and stereotypes. Like when I did "The We and the I", when I met all those kids from the Bronx I tried to see what we have in common more than what we makes them different. It's a good way to avoid stereotypes, and I'm very receptive of their stories and where they live as well so I can represent it accurately. In fact they are pleased with the way it's represented because you see in the movie that their lives are more difficult than a lot of people, definitely more than me.

“Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?” opens in limited release on November 22nd.

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