It is all about finding something magical in life, says filmmaker Michel Gondry, when asked to sum up what his films share in common.
Gondry, indeed referred to as a “visual magician” by New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott, is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker, having won for co-writing the screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). He directs movies known for their surreal visuals, quirky characters and boundless flights of fancy. His other efforts include The Science of Sleep (2006) and Mood Indigo (2014).
His latest movie Microbe & Gasoline is a semi-autobiographical film about his teenage years, told as a self-discovery road picture following two friends; Daniel (Ange Dargent) and Theo (Theophile Baquet), who travel across France in a car they have built themselves.
While it is not exactly Easy Rider (1969), their road trip serves as a metaphor for the journey of growing up and adolescence. As a teenager you dream big and imagine all the things you will be capable of once you are older. There is magic in that when you are a child: the endless possibilities of adulthood. No more people telling you what to do, no peer pressure from classmates and worrying about fitting in.
The characters in the movie, as was Gondry in his school days, are considered social outcasts. Daniel is a timid artistic type who enjoys drawing portraits and is shy around girls. Theo is the new kid in school, considered a show-off because he likes to work with his hands and make things.
For Gondry, who went to school in Versailles, admits he and his friends did not fit into the very strict school environment, and he wanted to explore the relationship between friends rejected by the classroom community.
The movie developed in Gondry’s head as he started thinking about telling a story about childhood, in particular his own childhood. The reason, Gondry says, is “because we want to talk about ourselves.”
Shooting the movie in what Gondry calls a “somber style,” Microbe & Gasoline may not resemble some of Gondry’s previous films; lacking in eye-popping visuals and surreal inventiveness, the movie may be more sweet and gentle than audiences may expect. According to Gondry, most people are touched by the warmth of the characters. There is also a lot of humor in the ways the movie shows childhood, heightening a sense of danger only for events to take a comedic twist of fate.
“It is good to make movies about simple things,” says Gondry, and some may feel that way about Microbe & Gasoline; it tells a simple story, but it takes on big themes: childhood, adulthood, friendship and individuality. Perhaps not the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster, it is no surprise the movie finds Gondry back in France.
The heart of the movie lies in two lead actors, both newcomers. Gondry found them after a long casting process that included auditioning 60-80 people. Gondry says he became really excited after seeing the interaction between the two young actors and notes they were “really amazing when put in a room together.”
Gondry (who got his start directing music videos for artists such as Bjork and D.A.F.T. Punk, and has been directing for more than 25 years) says he tries to tell different stories. Yet if his movies have anything in common, it would seem to be the endless possibilities of our imagination and that is especially true of Microbe & Gasoline.
Microbe & Gasoline will be shown as part of the 6th annual French Film Festival at the Music Box Theatre (located at 3733 N. Southport) on Saturday, July 23, and Tuesday, July 26, before its theatrical release on July 29.
For more information on the French Film Festival, as well as showtimes and ticket prices, visit the Music Box Theatre website here