French director Michel Gondry has been repeatedly praised for his visually sophisticated but playful cinematic style, from Bjork's "Human Behavior" video to Oscar-winning "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." But until now, Gondry never directed features in French."For a long time, I was too shy to write or direct a movie in my native language," he says. "The English put some layers on top of it, so I wouldn't feel so shy and so naked." Gondry's French-language debut, "Mood Indigo," stars Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris as a couple whose poignant love story is interrupted by a life-threatening illness. I chatted with Gondry about directing his first French feature, working with Audrey Tatou, his personal connection to the film, and his favorite apps.
"Mood Indigo" is based on Boris Vian's cult 1947 novel. How is the story still relevant?
Here comes this very imaginative, crazy world with very pure emotion. You also don't want to be fooled by happy endings. So I think that every generation thinks it's their book.
What is it like to work with Audrey Tautou?
She's very honest and a very hard worker, and you don't have to direct her too much. Her performance is great and really moved me. She's a good friend of mine. The fact that she's helping me promote the film means a lot -- she didn't have to, but she loves the film so much that she's fighting for it.
Americans are very familiar with Audrey Tautou from "Amélie." But what can you tell us about her costar, Romain Duris?
Well, Romain is a very charming and original actor. In a way he doesn't embody masculinity like most male actors have to do. It's hard for me to identify with the superman with no flaws. He has this quality of being fragile, and he's a natural comedian. He can be very intense and funny at the same time.
In the film Duris' character, Colin, invents a contraption called the "pianocktail." Describe what it does.
It's a contraption that Colin made to translate music into cocktails, so each note, each chord triggers different types of alcohol, and you create your drinks from melodies. A lot of words in Vian's writing are made up out of different words mixed together, so they're difficult to translate. That's why I wanted to make it visual, so you can enjoy the new objects made up of existing objects that are mixed together.
The film showcases a lot of wonderful cocktails and cuisine. What is your favorite cocktail, and what is your favorite dish?
It's called a Dark Cloud, and there is egg whites and rum inside. I love drinking it with my girlfriend when we go to our special place. It's very sweet and gets you very drunk very fast.
I'm a vegetarian. My auntie cooks in a very healthy way, and she makes lasagna with mushrooms you find in the forest, and that's the most delicious meal I know.
Until "Mood Indigo," all of your major movies have been in English. Why did you decide to make a French film?
For a long time, I was too shy to write or direct a movie in my native language. The English put some layers on top of it, so I wouldn't feel so shy and so naked. But now that I'm more confident with the French, it was nice to be able to understand each nuance of the dialogue and be able to write some. At least half of the dialogue is written by me, because the book doesn't have so much dialogue.
I would think you'd be less self-conscious in French than in English.
As a foreigner, you're gonna always have someone polish the writing. You are allowed to make mistakes. It's like my new movie with Noam Chomsky, "Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?" Being French and not understanding some of his work was giving me the excuse to be naive. It's the same with writing -- the fact that my first language excused for some of my childlike expressions. Once I speak in my first language, I have no excuse. It's how I am. The language can disguise that I'm simple or naive. In this way, using my foreign language helps to camouflage this.
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is perhaps your most famous film. How do you look back on it a decade later?
People ask me about it in most interviews because of the universality, and it's remained quite popular. I think Charlie Kaufman was capable of writing a very universal relationship. With me, I talk about things based on my relationships, which are harder to identify [with]. It's more weird, or there's a playfulness or humor that most people have a hard time to relate to. Maybe that's why it resonated more with a larger audience. Sometimes it's a burden, because people compare each new movie I make with this one. But I'm happy that people loved it so much.
In "Mood Indigo," Audrey Tautou character is plagued by a flower that grows in her lung. What is that a metaphor for?
I think it's a poetic way of describing something that's supposed to be beautiful as something that ends up being horrible. You can look at the flower as something pretty, but you can see the roots growing in the water underneath it -- and the water's not clear -- and see something horrifying in it. It's a contrast.
Does the film say anything about the French health care system?
It was written for France, and I can't say how it worked at the time, but they must have already had social security. But I can identify with it, because I had 10 years ago a girlfriend, and she was sick with leukemia. I had to work, because we didn't have insurance. I was lucky to have a very lucrative job, and I picked four to five jobs in a row so I can afford the treatment. I think this applies well to the American people.
You always have such interesting tech in your films. What are your top apps?
On my computer, I use Photoshop. I scan my drawings and I put color on them. I use Final Draft to write. I use a lot of Photobooth to take portraits and make distorted images.
Get in the mood for love with the "Mood Indigo" official trailer: