While Michel Gondry has created fantastical worlds onscreen — his arresting visual images have elevated him to auteur status in the realm of music videos (Björk, White Stripes) and independent films ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") — the idiosyncratic filmmaker has also achieved the improbable in the real world.
What other film director can say he's compelled Jim Carrey to drop the buffoon routine and actually act; played drums on a Kanye West song ("Diamonds From Sierra Leone"); and displeased Radiohead so much — with his abstract clip for "Knives Out" — that they denied him permission to use the video in his "Directors Label" compilation DVD?
Predictably enough, Gondry's affinity for reality-bending is also evident in his third feature-length film, "The Science of Sleep."
The director, who is currently putting the finishing touches on the picture, said the story centers on a daydreamer who retreats into his visions and begins to confuse them with reality. "It's about dreams and rejections," Gondry said in his thick (and often impenetrable) French accent. "[The protagonist] has a very vivid dream life and his real life is more of a disappointment. He meets his neighbor, who he starts to fall in love with ..." he paused, as though feeling he was about to reveal too much. "Most of the film is in reality, but parts play out in his dreams."
Gondry's previous features, "Sunshine" and 2001's "Human Nature," both utilized the absurdist gifts of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, but "Sleep" was based on an idea from a friend and was written entirely by Gondry. "I participated in [the premise of 'Eternal Sunshine'], but writing is scary on your own," he said.
Due in March, "The Science of Sleep" stars Gael García Bernal ("The Motorcycle Diaries," "Y Tu Mamá También") as the over-imaginative dreamer and Charlotte Gainsbourg — daughter of late French pop star Serge Gainsbourg and British singer Jane Birkin — plays his love interest. Gondry has said in the past that the film is a loose interpretation of the "Everlong" video he shot for the Foo Fighters in 1997, where a man saves his girlfriend from hellions in a dream world. An English-language film with a mostly French cast, the story is set in Paris in an apartment building Gondry used to live in (the film also stars French actress Emma de Caunes, who, incidentally, appeared in the contentious "Knives Out" video).
Asked about the film's tenor, Gondry acknowledged it will have comedic elements but he said he's averse to labeling his films. "All my movies have elements of comedy, but it's hard to define," he said. "When we did 'Eternal Sunshine,' we weren't aiming for any particular [tone]; we were just trying to tell the story the best way possible. Obviously, when it goes to video, people have to decide whether it goes into the comedy or drama section, but other than that, you don't have an obligation to fit it into a category."
Music is always a vital element in Gondry's films (the "Sunshine" soundtrack features Beck, the Polyphonic Spree and a score by Fiona Apple producer Jon Brion), and the director has tapped his longtime pals in the White Stripes and California garage rockers the Willowz to lend the movie some pop. "We'll do a video for the [White Stripes 'Instinct Blues,' which appears in the film], it's such a great track," Gondry said, noting that he'd like to make as many videos with the Stripes as he has with Björk ("Instinct Blues" would make five; he's made six with Björk. See "White Stripes Teaming With Lego-Lovin' Michel Gondry Again"). Gondry also recently helmed Kanye West's clip for "Heard 'Em Say" (see "Kanye, Kids Run Amok In Surreal Macy's For New Clip").
Another music project, "Block Party" — his concert film of the 2004 event hosted by comedian Dave Chappelle that featured performances from the reunited Fugees, Kanye West, Common and the Roots — is also scheduled to hit theaters next year (see "Fugees — Yes, Even Lauryn — Reunite For Dave Chappelle's Block Party"). While the DVD is still many months off, Gondry says that eight hours of footage was shot, so the expanded disc is likely to contain a bounty of extras and bonus materials.
And although they're in very early stages, Gondry said he has two more film projects on tap, both of which are in his favored realm of quasi-science-fiction. The first, "Master of Space and Time," is a comedic time travel film with Jack Black attached as a quixotic scientist ("He gets up to no good," Gondry said) (see "Jack Black Goes After 'Space And Time' — And The President"). The other is a yet-untitled French-language film that also includes a time-travel premise, albeit one that's more autobiographical in nature.
"It's about my friend in my old band [Oui Oui] in the early '80s. It's set in 2005 and we meet our [1980s] selves in the present and interact," he said, laughing. "It's a completely stupid story!"
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