Where are the Inspector Gadgets of directing today? The inventors of cinema, who believe that films that aren’t pieced together are already a lost cause, who pitch in with everyone else to create images, who get out their blueprints teeming with crazy, dreamy ideas? For many people, 60-year-old eternal teenager Michel Gondry is the epitome of this kind of genius mad scientist. He was discovered in the 1990s in the then-effervescent world of music videos, where he created legendary gems for Björk (“Human Behavior”), Daft Punk (“Around the World”) or Neneh Cherry (“Feel It”). At the beginning of the 2000s, he branched out into feature films, which include a mental melodrama turned cult favorite (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), a vibrant ode to amateur pastiches (Be Kind Rewind), and a one-time foray into super-hero blockbusters (the green Hornet).
The title of his latest feature film, The Book of Solutionswhich will be presented at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight on Monday, May 22, 11 years after The We and the I, brings to mind a breviary or survival manual, which could define his DIY cinema. Gondry indicated that “filming was difficult.” “I went in many directions at the same time,” he explained, a few days before the Cannes Film Festival began, in the offices of his production company. It was “an extremely creative and painful period at the same time. We shot on location, in a house in the Cévennes, in the middle of nowhere. The team gathered there really helped me to get things out of my head.”
The film is presented as a self-portrait of a filmmaker in crisis, with Pierre Niney as his alter ego. “Creating a self-portrait is very practical,” he said, because “you don’t have to invent motivations or reasons: everything is there, you start from yourself, you just have to remember. And Pierre Niney didn’t have to go very far to understand his character, since he had him in front of him! There is always a fear that he will be judged as navel-gazing or narcissistic, but, after all, some people have written very beautiful biographies.”
A heavy blow
The Book of Solutions comes eight years after Microbe & Gasoline, the odyssey of two children, which has remained the filmmaker’s last big-screen contribution. “I never stopped trying to make movies in between,” he said. “Sometimes things don’t work out. And movies take time. For a director, seven or eight years of waiting is common. It’s a bit demoralizing, because the length of a life is divisible in the number of films. I remember Godard saying , ‘I still have seven or eight films left in me’, and now he’s gone.”
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