Michel Gondry has always been a filmmaker who puts his own, unique stamp on his material, whether it’s romantic fantasy (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), buddy comedy (Be Kind Rewind), concert film (Dave Chappelle’s Block Party), or even a superhero flick (The Green Hornet). But his new film Mood Indigo, an adaptation of the fascinatingly multi-talented French writer Boris Vian’s 1947 novel L’écume des jours, may be his Gondry-est effort to date: charmingly whimsical and cheerfully inventive, filled with whirring gadgets and knockout visuals and gravity-defying dancing, with a healthy dose of lovelorn melancholy thrown in for good measure. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Gondry about Mood Indigo, as well as the legacy of Eternal Sunshine and his friendship with Dave Chappelle.
Flavorwire: Tell me a little bit about you and Boris Vian. When did you first come in contact with his work?
Michel Gondry: Well, when I was an adolescent, we didn’t have the Internet, and so we didn’t have access to the presentation of sexuality in the media, like there is now. So Boris Vian had written these books where he pretended he was just a translator, and the book was written by an American called Vernon Sullivan – and he actually wrote the books, but they were really racy, and they had a lot of sexual content. That was how most adolescents approached his writing, and by that time, we all knew that it was [really written by] Boris Vian. So those books had a lot of sexual elements to them, and we started to like the writer, and went to his other works. L’écume des jours – Mood Indigo – is the most famous of his books. And then I read most of his books after I read Mood Indigo. So that’s how most adolescents, at least of my generation, came to know him. The generations after and before me, as well, all had a special relationship with him. He connects with adolescents and young adults like no other writer does.
When and why did you decide that you wanted to make a film out of this book?
I think I always had the dream of doing it since I read it. Even though I was not even a director [yet], I always had a visual element that would come to me while I was reading the book. But recently I was approached by a producer called Luc Bossi, who had written a first draft of the adaptation, and he asked me. So it was not really my decision, I just accepted an offer that was given to me.
The film has a sort of handmade style that is both familiar from your other works — I’m thinking particularly of The Science of Sleep — yet also very much its own creation, specific to this story, in terms of tone and pace. How did you settle on the visual and narrative style of the film?
The narrative in the book is very progressive, sort of linear. There is a sort of falling down. And in terms of the technical/visual elements, there is a way that he invents new worlds by combining existing worlds. And there is something handmade in the writing that I wanted to reflect in the way I was making the film. There are constrictions of new objects made out of mixed, existing objects. So I didn’t want to use CGI for that. I wanted to see them for real – see them work – so that’s why we made them practical.
The pairing of you as a filmmaker with Audrey Tautou as an actor seems so perfect, it’s a little surprising it took so long to happen. How did your come to work together?
Audrey Tautou was my first choice – I admired her and the movies she did and how she acts. And the fact that at the same time she’s very fragile, but she has something very strong inside her. We met when I did an exhibition in Paris, and we became friends. So she was the first person I thought of when I was asked to direct Mood Indigo.
And what was your relationship like on set?
She’s great – you can talk to her, she tries many things, she’s always right on the spot, she acts very truthfully, and very genuinely. We tried many things, and I think she really enjoyed the experience. She’s very supportive of the film, very proud of it. And she liked all of what was going on around. And most actors don’t mind that you have complicated stuff around them, because they see that they’re part of something unusual, and it’s a different experience for them.