Interview: Michel Gondry of “Mood Indigo”

Posted on August 2, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Michel Gondry is one of my favorite directors, with a distinctive style of romance and whimsy, best known for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind.”  His films usually feature intricate contraptions with a very hand-made feeling.  His latest film, starring “Amelie’s” Audrey Tautou, is based on a popular French novel first published in 1947 novel by Boris Vian with a title usually translated as “Froth on the Daydream”. Gondry is the perfect choice for a film that features a “pianoktail,” a piano that makes cocktails according to which tune is played on its keys, and a character who becomes ill because a water lily is growing in her lung. The book has been filmed twice before and turned into an opera, but in Gondry it has found the perfect person to translate its bittersweet allegory to cinema.

I spoke to Gondry about why handmade items still matter and which item from the film he would like to have in real life.

In a world of CGI effects that feel realer than reality, it is very endearing to see a film that is filled with charming items that all feel very handmade.

I am surrounded by function, and I am not very good at decorating or being organized. It is very messy most of the time. But I like to make things and to have people make things for my movies. It is very nice when you can see the construction and the results, when you can take it in your hand and it moves and functions, where you can see the mechanics and the guts inside. You want things to be made my people, not things made by things. You don’t want robots to be designing the items you are going to buy like it’s a sign of better quality. I don’t see it that way. A lot of the films I saw when I was growing up, you could tell how things were made and I found that exciting. It stimulates the creativity of the viewer. You would be inspired and want do make the things yourself. If you show how it is made, people will think about how to make it themselves. It’s a democratization of creativity.

The actors have to believe that they are in a real world. The fact that everything was made, there was no green screen, helped them. They have to jump into this world so they can feel the emotion they would feel in the real world.

If you could have one of the movie’s contraptions in real life, what would it be?

I have the airplane.  I like some of the cars we did.  One was made by two very famous French cars from the 60’s and 70’s.  Storing items costs more money than building them.  It’s too bad.

The book that inspired the movie is still very beloved in France, isn’t it?

Yes, I was about 15 when I first read it.  Everyone has their own take on it.  That puts some pressure on me  to not fail them — some people say, “Don’t make this book into a film because we love it!”  That scared me a little.  But I have to forget about that and the best I could.

The movie’s US title comes from an American song and American jazz plays a role in the film.

Duke Ellington is very important to the story.  The character Chloe has a name inspired by a Duke Ellington song.  And I grew up listening to Duke Ellington.  Two heroes in the house — Duke Ellington and Serge Gainsbourg, who was in a way sort of a student of Ellington. So I did put a lot of Ellington music in the movie and it was very important to honor that spirit.

What did you tell your actors about maintaining a reality in a partially fairy tale setting?

They asked me a lot of questions about who their characters were and where they came from. I don’t like to intellectualize the background of each character. It should come from themselves. They just have to be themselves and believe in the moment. I don’t think they need to create a heavy psychology. The psychology of the emotion comes from the situation and what is going on. They don’t have to imagine a full and complex story for each character.

Am I right in seeing some influence by George Méliès in your work?

Yes. He was a magician first and used the camera to complexify his tricks. And he discovered most of the effects that were used in cinema until CGI. He had the ingenuity and creativity and complete freedom in his work that I really got inspired by.

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Directors Interview

Eyes On/In Film

Posted on August 2, 2014 at 3:48 pm

My friend Alan Zilberman has a great essay on Rogerebert.com about the history of close-ups of the eye in films. The current release, “I Origins” is about scientists who study eyes professionally, one of whom has taken thousands of photographs of eyes and who falls in love with a pair of eyes he sees in an ad on a billboard.

Zilberman goes back to the earliest days of film, including the shocking image of an eye being sliced by a razor in 1929’s “Un Chien Andalou,” from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali.  His analysis is deep, thoughtful, and knowledgeable.  Here is an excerpt:

Since the silent era, there have been dozens of captivating eye close-ups, and these shots have captured virtually every tone and mood. In Jean-Luc Godard’s “Alphaville,” there are series of close-ups on actress Anna Karina’s eyes that are mournful and seductive. The eyelashes deepen the beauty, while Godard’s farming give just enough facial context so that close-ups are not unnerving. While Godard saw an eye filled with passion,Alfred Hitchcock saw the potential of an inanimate eye with “Psycho.” After Janet Leigh’s infamous shower scene, the camera steels itself on her iris then zooms outward, a visual reminder how death begins in the eye then expands outward. One of Mike Cahill’s favorite eye close-ups is in Krzysztof Kieślowski “The Double Life of Véronique”: “It’s super-super close, and you see a reflection in the eyeof someone walking to the doorway. uses a , he’s playing with the reflection so that eye’s purpose is twofold.” In fact, “I Origins” has several moments where a distant object’s reflection is in the iris; this shot is one of the most popular in film, within one genre in particular.

From “2001: A Space Odyssey,” onward to “Blade Runner” and “Looper,” science fiction filmmakers use an eye close-up to engage with the viewer’s sense of awe and chaos. The purpose of the close-up often depends on whether the viewer sees one eye or both. A single eye can be disorienting, both in terms of the character’s fear or the sheer enormity of what they’re seeing (filled with reflecting light, the eye close-up in “Blade Runner” is one of the more rapturous examples).

I really enjoyed the piece and it made me think of some additional examples, especially “Unfaithfully Yours” from Preston Sturges, when a close-up of an eye seems to penetrate right into the brain.

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Film History

Coming in August: Helen Mirren, Ninja Turtles, Step Up 5, If I Stay, The Giver, and More

Posted on August 1, 2014 at 6:35 pm

August is traditionally a slow month for movies, with some of each year’s worst being released just before Labor Day. But this year, the last month of summer vacation leads off with a bang, Guardians of the Galaxy, plus the James Brown movie Get on Up, also worth seeing. This is a very special month. It’s very rare (though not as rare as reported) to have an August with five full weekends — five Fridays, five Saturdays, five Sundays. You’re going to need those days because there will be a lot to see, including:

into the storm vehicle
Copyright 2014 Nell Minow

FRIDAY, AUGUST 8
Calvary: Brendan Gleeson stars as a priest facing a terrible choice in a community of sad and damaged people.
The Hundred Foot Journey: Helen Mirren plays an imperious chef challenged by a talented young man from India.
Into The Storm: Professional storm chasers, thrill-seeking amateurs, and courageous townspeople are caught up in a series of tornadoes. I saw the camera-covered vehicle from the film at Comic-Con.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Megan Fox plays April and Johnny Knoxville provides the voice for Leonardo in this live-action/CGI reboot.
What If: Daniel Radcliffe’s first romantic comedy is the story about a guy who very much wants to get out of the friend zone with pretty Zoe Kazan. Also about Elvis’s favorite sandwich.
Step Up: All In:  On the one hand, it isn’t screening for critics, which is usually not a good sign.  On the other hand, I love the “Step Up” movies, no one goes to them for the plot or acting, and the trailer looks sizzling.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13
Let’s Be Cops: This seems more like the typical August fare: two guys pretend to be policemen.  At first it works.  Then it doesn’t.  Maybe it will be funny.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 15
The Expendables 3: 80’s action stars to the rescue, this time with Harrison Ford.
The Giver: The classic dystopic book by Lois Lowry comes to the screen with a high-powered cast that includes Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift.
Land Ho!: This low-key film about two retired former brothers-in-law who take a trip to Iceland has a, improvised, documentary feel, gorgeous scenery, and surprising charm.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 22
Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For: A sequel to the ultra-stylized, ultra-violent 2005 film based on the graphic novel, this is again a multi-layered series of stories about tough, often brutal, characters.
When The Game Stands Tall: Jim Caviezel plays real-life high school football coach Bob Ladouceur, who took his team to a still-unbroken record of consecutive wins.
If I Stay: The YA novel about a girl in a coma stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a young cellist and Jamie Blackley as the rocker she loves.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27

The November Man: Pierce Brosnan is back in the world of guns, chases, and secrets in this spy story that pits him against the young agent he trained.
Underdogs: Did the World Cup get you excited about soccer? Then take a look at this animated film about a rather unusual soccer challenge.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJiarLbdrzw

FRIDAY, AUGUST 29
Love Is Strange: A bittersweet love story of a long-time couple who are finally able to marry but then fall on hard times, with Alfred Molina and John Lithgow.
As Above So Below: Ben Feldman stars in a horror movie set in an archeological dig.
The Trip to Italy: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have made a sequel to their fabulous film about two frenemies on a tour of exquisite dining experiences and conversations ranging from existential meaning to silly impersonations of celebrities. This time, it’s in Italy.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Lucy and the Box Office: The Good News and the Bad News

Posted on August 1, 2014 at 8:00 am

Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures
Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures

Last week, “Lucy” beat “Hercules” at the box office, good news for those who still think that women-led action films can’t make money. As blog The Mary Sue put it succinctly: “Today In Female-Led-Movies-Obviously-Don’t-Make-Money News, Lucy Beat Out Hercules This Weekend.”

Make no mistake, readers: as Susana Polo pointed out in her review on FridayLucy is not a good film and probably not worth spending money on to watch in-theaters (though neither is Hercules, of course). And yet, it made about 1.5 times more than Hercules at the box office this weekend.

On the other hand, this is not exactly a big step forward for stories that illuminate the experience of being a woman.  It does not pass the Bechdel test.  Jezebel’s Powder Room blog has a thoughtful assessment from C. Rhodes.  And also

Because the titular role is the only significant speaking role for a woman in the entire damned movie. We cannot (CANNOT) settle for this being a movie “for” feminism.

Because the trope of a woman getting psychically violated and used by a group of men is old, reinforces a lot of negative gender stereotypes on both sides, and frankly if you combine Brokedown Palace and Limitless we’ve already had this movie poured into our long-suffering eye-holes.

And because, most importantly, it’s one of the most racist things on a screen right now. The bad guys? Asian men. The entire movie focuses on her need to get out from under the grips of a group of villains who are pretty exclusively people of color…and if that’s not a loaded message, I don’t know what is.

For an opposing view, take a look at a column by Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff, who argues that “Lucy is a staunchly feminist film that sometimes seems terrified of feminism.”  I’m not persuaded by his argument, which seems to rest on two points: (1) Lucy has to become less of a woman and less of a human to combat the evil forces and (2) her violence is directed against men.  But it is an interesting point of view.

Besson’s interest in archetypal feminist action heroes in the vein of Ripley from Aliens or many of his prior female leads gives way here to something slightly more complicated. Yes, Lucy gets to a place where she kicks ass and takes names, but there’s always something disquieting about it. For Lucy, to become a badass action hero requires largely getting rid of her humanity….Lucy is a film about smashing the patriarchy that also has some degree of ambivalence about what that might actually look like. After all, consider the figure that Lucy becomes: she kills or dismisses men without a second thought, she is in control of her sexual agency completely and implicitly, and she eventually evolves past men (and the rest of humanity) entirely. Then she deigns to leave humanity with a tiny gift that contains her vastly superior knowledge.

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Commentary Gender and Diversity This Week at the Box Office
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