In modern cinema, there are few directors that get the luxury of applying their true vision to film. Many can pick and choose their favorite costumes, designs, and props, but as with most things, these choices are often juggled between financial obligations. Michel Gondry is a director that clearly has little interest in the financial gain of cinema, and more importantly, uses his creative nature to produce a variety of interesting works.
Gondry’s Point of View
Michel Gondry’s early directing career was centered around the band Oui Oui, for which he was the drummer and music video director. His videos tended to include animation and gave Gondry the opportunity to experiment with different techniques. When the band split up, he continued to create music videos, beginning with his now long-time collaborator Bjork. This led to opportunities to create videos for a range of high-profile bands including the Foo Fighters and Daft Punk. Each of these videos allowed Gondry to investigate different techniques that he would later use in his films.
In 2001 Gondry made his first feature Human Nature written by Charlie Kaufman, whom he would work with again on his second feature Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Since then he has gone on to work on a number of features, documentaries, and shorts such as The Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind, and Mood Indigo.
Michel Gondry generally creates drama with splashes of comedy and fantasy. His films are typically centered around people’s mindset towards a situation, with the audience able to see into the characters’ thoughts by using a combination of live-action and animation.
Gondry is a director that does not always show a clear theme within his work. It’s easy to watch sections and argue that it’s all about romance or our subconscious mind or even life in general. His films can sometimes be complex in their telling and, although the scenes we see can appear surreal, Gondry incorporates a great deal of human nature and emotional response into his characters. For example, if we take Eternal Sunshine the story is centered around removing bad memories in order to feel happier in ourselves. However, the main theme is about our inability to change these things no matter how hard we try. If we compare this to Be Kind Rewind we can see that this film is about the relationship between a community and our own individual creativity, to not let something stand in our way. The more noticeable themes are evident in The Science of Sleep and Mood Indigo with a story focused on love, but again, Gondry ensures this isn’t the Hollywood version of love, but one that, through surrealism, reflects the inner turmoil of people’s feelings.
Michel Gondry has an extremely distinct style that has developed over time through his music video direction and steadily been applied to his films. Like many others considered auteurs, Gondry usually writes and directs, therefore giving him a greater level of control. Most of his films use in-camera effects and some form of animation which have become markers of his visual style.
Much of his music video work relies on his ability to think outside the box and use techniques that do not need large budgets or additions made in post. An example of this can be found in Be Kind Rewind where Jack Black and Mos Def are shown recreating a number of films in a montage-like fashion, filmed entirely as one shot. Though Gondry has done this a number of times, it most closely replicates his music video for Lucas- Lucas with the Lid Off. Another noticeable crossover can be seen with the use of large hands in The Science of Sleep and the music video for Foo Fighters – Everlong.
Gondry’s work can sometimes appear cluttered and does not generally follow the norms of Hollywood/mainstream cinema. Throughout his work, there is a sense that he spends a lot of time considering the aesthetics of a scene and the best way to visually tell a story/express emotion, without the addition of a verbal explanation. A great example of this can be seen in Eternal Sunshine when the character of Joel (Jim Carrey) is wandering amongst bookshelves within a memory that is gradually being removed. Gondry uses a combination of subtle effects to remove the covers from the books and eventually remove Clementine (Kate Winslet) followed by the lights in the room going off until the memory is gone entirely. The lights in this scene act like a clever fade to black which feels more natural in comparison to the conventional fade done in the edit. It is elements like these that help define Gondry as an auteur. This deviation from the usual transitions is noticeable in much of his work, with Gondry often using ‘graphic matches’ to jump-cut between a scene in a way that appears almost seamless. There are also multiple uses of ‘time-slicing’ or ‘bullet-time’ within his film work which has carried across from the music video Like a Rolling Stone (Rolling Stones) and Gondry’s adverts for Smirnoff.
Gondry uses animation as a means of creating a visual effect rather than relying on CGI and this helps add to the overall look of his films. In films such as The Science of Sleep and Mood Indigo, the animation is there to expand on the dreamscape that Gondry is attempting to create, and works perfectly in reflecting a person’s personality or thought process. This idea carries across to the 2013 documentary Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? Where Gondry has chosen to animate the conversation through hand-drawn and stop-motion techniques in a style that is reflective of his style throughout his works.
Michel Gondry is a director who undoubtedly has control over each aspect of mise-en-scene and is not afraid to let the audience see that his films and their effects are hand-crafted. He uses techniques that many directors would consider outdated but continues to create work using methods that he has invented and developed and understands their potential for storytelling. Of course, like many considered auteurs there is the occasional stand-out difference such as The Green Hornet, but at times, even here Gondry has made his mark. Ultimately Gondry works best away from the Hollywood system where he can apply his full creative power to his work, actively participating in the creation of every element and trusting audiences to share his sensibilities and emotions.