Cinemadope: French Twist

Living in Michel Gondry’s imagination

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Thursday, August 21, 2014
photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films
Mood Indigo

For my money, there are far too few artists like Michel Gondry in the world. The French filmmaker, writer, actor and musician is best known stateside as one of the driving forces behind the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a darkly comic, sometimes melancholy look at a couple—Kate Winslet and, playing against type, Jim Carrey—who have their memories erased to help them forget each other after a breakup. It was a wonderfully topsy-turvy film about the emotional strength of remembrance, filled with all sorts of twists, turns and invention. Gondry, who directed, also won an Oscar for his work on the screenplay, and in many ways the film felt like one of those marvelously labyrinthine stories from Italo Calvino or Jorge Luis Borges—an elaborate maze that you were sorry you had to exit.

After that bit of breakthrough, his career here seemed to dim a bit. While later films—The Science of Sleep (2006) and Be Kind Rewind (2008)—pleased his fans, they didn’t have the mainstream success of Sunshine, with each film earning about half what its predecessor pulled in.

Then, in 2011, Gondry made The Green Hornet, a big budget action picture that made more than anything he’d done before. It was also a huge critical flop, and when one looks at Gondry’s filmography today, one’s first thought is that someone made a mistake when putting together the list.

Luckily, his blockbuster diversion was short-lived. This week, he returns to area screens with Mood Indigo, a visionary romance based on the cult novel from French author Boris Vian. Set in a surreal Paris that feels related to the whimsical France of the past hit Amelie (that film’s star Audrey Tautou appears here as well), Gondry’s film charts the romance of Colin and Chloé (Romain Duris and Tautou) amid a city where the director’s imagination can run wild. Gondry’s mix of magical realism, stop-motion animation and handmade effects feels just right for this story about the buoyant bloom of early love.


The work of another highly individual filmmaker comes to Shelburne Falls this weekend, when Pothole Pictures screens Jim Jarmusch’s 1996 fever-dream western Dead Man. Johnny Depp stars as accountant William Blake, a man on the run across the American West with a bullet lodged next to his heart and a Native American named Nobody (Gary Farmer) for company. Shot in stark black and white and featuring a spare and haunting soundtrack from Neil Young, Jarmusch’s film is like no western made before or since. It screens at 7:30 p.m on Friday and Saturday night at the town’s Memorial Hall, with both shows preceded by a live musical act.

Also this week: Fans of the films mentioned above might be interested to take a look at a few of the related offerings from online film hub Vimeo (an anagram of “movie,” it’s pronounced like “video”).

Gondry’s short animated film Haircut Mouse—see it at—is a charming and surreal story about a mouse who decides to open a hair salon, only to find that the first customer is the neighborhood cat. Jarmusch, meanwhile, performs in “O,” a bizarre spoken word piece based on writing by GZA (Wu-Tang Clan). An enumeration of the many mystical properties of the circle shape, GZA’s piece connects record albums to the shape of our planet, with Jarmusch intoning the text over a spacey jazz background. See it at, and look for more about Vimeo—which focuses on and attracts much more of a filmmaker/film lover crowd than the more popular YouTube—in a coming column.•

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