It was Björk who spotted Michel Gondry’s talent as a filmmaker. He was still the drummer in French pop band Oui Oui when she saw a music video he’d made for them and hired him to direct her own ‘Human Behaviour’. Since then he’s shot videos for everyone from Daft Punk and The White Stripes to The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, while also becoming the director and Oscar-winning screenwriter of films like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and ‘The Science of Sleep’.
All Gondry’s films have a playful, surrealist visual language which the director traces back to the movies and books he loved as a child, including Boris Vian’s 1947 novel ‘L’Écume des Jours’. It’s fitting that he’s now had the chance to adapt the book for the big screen as he says it was Vian’s ideas that were in his head when he first started directing for Björk. “That’s what’s great about him as a writer: every adolescent in France reads him and it sparks your creativity,” explains Gondry. “It shows you that literature can be really free but at the same time romantic and modern. It’s on the border of surrealism, which really inspired me. Those ideas about using dreams, juxtaposing different images, showing constant creativity and also sometimes nonsense – all of that was in me when I started to direct.”
In English, the film will be called ‘Mood Indigo’ after a Duke Ellington piece which underscores the film’s story of a newlywed couple forced to face an unexpected crisis. Ellington’s music holds particular significance for Gondry. “I grew up listening to Duke Ellington,” he says. “He was my dad’s God. The day he died in ’74, my dad was so devastated that we didn’t speak all night at the dinner table. Later on, when I learned more about jazz I realised just how unique Duke Ellington is. He took the same orchestra on the road for 50 years, and his was one of the only swing orchestras to survive the 60s and 70s. He was an innovator throughout his whole life.”
While Gondry is now the veteran of seven feature films, he believes he’ll always return to directing music videos. Earlier this year he shot Metronomy performing ‘Love Letters’ inside a hand-painted rotating set. “It’s very important to me,” he explains. “It’s where I come from and I don’t want to renounce it. It’s how I form my building blocks to tell stories in feature films. It refreshes my creativity.”
He doesn’t have his next music video shoot lined up yet, although he says he’s a fan of Belgian pop artist Stromae. “Most of the people I want to make videos for are dead, like Serge Gainsbourg,” he says. “I really wanted to do a Michael Jackson video but it never happened. I wasn’t famous enough when he was alive.”
The inventiveness and wit that Björk saw in Gondry’s work is still there, running like a red cord through ‘Mood Indigo’, ‘Eternal Sunshine…’ and his music videos. “Each video I’ve done I’ve tried something different,” he says. “When I grew up I wanted to be an inventor or a scientist or a painter. To be able to just have an idea and then put it into the real world and materialise it is really exciting.”
Originally published in NME, 26 July 2014.