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Michel Gondry on Mood Indigo starring Audrey Tautou ... now showing in theaters

Mood Indigo, the Michel Gondry film based on the Boris Vian cult novel is now playing. I've followed the film starring Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris for quite awhile now so this interview with the director in Empire magazine really caught so my eye. The visionary Gondry who gave us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind shares his thoughts on making his latest film. Here's the boilerplate rundown-
"Set in a charmingly surreal Paris, wealthy bachelor Colin spends his time developing his pianocktail (a cocktail-making piano) and devouring otherworldly dishes prepared by his trusty chef Nicolas. When Colin learns that his best friend Chick, a fellow acolyte of the philosopher Jean-Sol Partre, has a new American girlfriend, our lonely hero attends a friend's party in hopes of falling in love himself. He soon meets Chloe and, before they know it, they're dancing to Duke Ellington and plunging headfirst into a romance. Their whirlwind courtship is tested when an unusual illness plagues Chloe; a flower begins to grow in her lungs. To save her, Colin discovers the only cure is to surround Chloe with a never-ending supply of fresh flowers."
Being especially intrigued by the "pianocktail" Gondry uses in the film, I found a clip in the New York Times to accompany the piece. Be sure to check it out below.

Here's the interview in full ... 

Your new film has a different title in English than in French. Where did Mood Indigo come from?
It's a name of a Duke Ellington song that reflects the story quite well. It's a romantic love story that gets darker and darker. In French it has a more complicated name: Froth Of The Daze, or Foam Of The Daze [L'Écume Des Jours]. It's a more surrealistic name. The attachment to the book is very strong in France, while in other countries, most people have not read the book. So it's a different approach.

When did you first come across the original Boris Vian book? Did you read it many years ago?
Yes. Most French adolescents or young adults read Boris Vian. Unfortunately he was not very successful during his lifetime and he died very young from heart failure. His work became famous like 20 years after he passed away, sadly. And because he was not successful, he tried different genres. He tried as well to pretend he was just a translator of an obscure American writer called Vernon Sullivan. He used this name and pretended to translate the books, while he in fact wrote them from scratch. And they were really racy and sexual and violent and at the time, when we didn't have internet or DVDs, there would be readings that would go from hand to hand, to say, "Yeah, there is good sex in this one," or "Try it, it's pretty exciting and arousing." So I think a lot of kids like me got into his work through that and then realised that, as well as being arousing, they were very clever and abstract, with absurd concepts that we really liked.

I also loved the story that his wife ran away with Jean-Paul Sartre. Then there's a character in the book, a philosopher called Jean-Sol Partre, who is awful in many ways. That must have come from a place of real bitterness.
Well no, in fact, I don't think it would come from bitterness, because his wife ran away with Jean-Paul Sartre well after he wrote the book. But Vian just didn't take Sartre very seriously. He's a serious philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, and he had a great influence on many writers and journalists that are working now, but there is a certain absurdity -- like in most French philosophy, I have to say -- that Vian just wanted to make fun of. He was friends with him. That's how Jean-Paul Sartre stole his wife, I guess.

The dance in the movie, the "biglemoi", is very like those old cartoons from that Betty Boop era – really early, squash-and-stretch animation.
Yeah, exactly. It's very well put, this remark. I didn't have this comment before and it's exactly true. The way animation used to work with Betty Boop -- who was created by Max Fleischer, a contemporary of Walt Disney -- or other early Tex Avery or early Walt Disney cartoons, where limbs and legs would stretch and people would look elastic, like elastic bands. That was a tribute to that, I think, when he thought of the "biglemoi". And so this dance, it's when the music distorts your body in an uncontrollable way. It's similar -- though also opposite -- to when you get too close to a girl and you have some body transformation -- a certain part of your body becomes harder. Here, the legs become softer, so it's kind of the opposite.

This is a very sexy interview we're having. You also have a pianocktail in this film, which mixes a cocktail depending on what’s played. Are you tempted to build a real life one?
Actually, I did one for Bjork. You can see that in my first compilation DVD of my videos. I did an experiment that I'd had in mind. It was a system where a card would spin very fast, like the spin art from the 70s, and her fingers were attached to little strings that would activate pumps that would project ink on the spinning card. So as she played this harpsichord, she would pull each string and each time it was a different colour that would come and then be projected on the spinning card. And in fact, it kind of half worked and it was interesting, we shot it, but I splashed ink all over the place and the white walls were covered in ink and I had to apologise to Bjork. But she didn't mind, she was excited -- it was an experiment.

How about your decision to play a role yourself in this film?
Well I asked different actors that I really liked and they were not available or not willing to do the part. And then my script supervisor suggested to me that I could play this part. I didn't have much confidence, but I did it. My relationship with the actor is a little bit similar to one of a doctor and his patient. It's something where they have to give me their trust and I have to tell them if they are good or bad, so it could be the doctor telling them if their health is good or bad.

This year is the tenth anniversary of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Are your memories of making that film still pretty sharp, or have you forgotten?
No, no, it's pretty sharp. It's so hard to make a movie, so you remember every beat of it. I have plenty of memories of scenes that were not even in the movie. There was a scene where they go to the theatre that we shot. It was minus fifteen degrees Celsius. So we couldn't stay outside more than three minutes and it was so hard to shoot. Then it didn't make it to the editing, which is normal -- you have many scenes that don't make it to the editing. In this case, it was repeating another scene that was stronger and said the same thing. But my impression of the whole movie is really attached to a relationship that I had that was marvelous. And as I was doing the editing, I guess I was too busy, I was not maybe the nicest guy to be with, so my girlfriend just left me. Now, more important than this movie, is this break-up that still gets me blue. Most movies I've made are attached to some broken-hearted feelings. They're hard for me to watch.

With Mood Indigo, there's so much romance in it, but it's not always a happy romance.
Yeah. I mean, this one has a pretty optimistic ending. You can see it as something that's not very positive, but at least they're trying again. Many people who come to a screening or if I see them in the street, sometimes they recognise me and talk about this movie, and they say that they were on the verge of breaking up and they went to see this movie and then they try it again. And so the movie brought them back together, so that's a great compliment.

And do they hug you?
Yeah, sometimes. Yes, they do.

There's a brilliant bit in Eternal Sunshine with Mark Ruffalo in his underpants doing some kind of bump and grind. Did you see that and think, "One day, that man will be the Incredible Hulk"?
No, I didn't see what his future would be. He was extremely funny and natural. He wanted to improvise a lot and Kirsten Dunst wanted to stick to the page. And so that's why he talks about The Clash and stuff that has nothing to do with the script or the story, but she would only answer with sentences from the script and it works perfectly with their dynamic, because she was so obsessed with Tom Wilkinson, her boss, that she couldn't participate in his sidewalks. And what was funny as well is I had asked Jim Carrey from the beginning of the film to be as serious as possible, and here he was, pretending to be asleep, while he had these actors jumping on the bed around him and doing whatever they felt like doing. And he was a bit frustrated that they had so much freedom, while I would keep so much control over him. But at the end, he understood and he was very happy. And now, when he talks about the movie, even about my direction, he's always very complimentary. But at the beginning he was feeling very frustrated.

There's a video on YouTube of you doing a Rubik's Cube with your feet. Can you do anything else with your toes?
Well, I like to brush my teeth in my shower, so when I drop my toothbrush on the floor by mistake, I pick it up with my feet. That's how I learnt to do the Rubik's Cube.

Finally, what's next for you?
I've written a teenage road movie story, so that's what I'm working on now, in France.

Interview by Phil de Semlyen, Empire 

Love French culture?  Check out the DREAMING OF FRANCE meme at An Accidental Blog.