Friday, July 09, 2010
Maestro: Michel Gondry
Known For: Quirky, visually fantastical films and documentaries.
Influences: Cartoons, silent comedians and their films, and (as is evident from Be Kind Rewand) 80's comedies.
Masterpieces: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Disasters: They're most definitely not all perfect, but no disasters.
Better than you remember: Nope
Box Office: $34 mil for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Favorite Actor: He in fact doesn't reuse actors. The closest candidate for this category is Mos Def who was a featured performer in Dave Chappelle's Block Party and then starred in Be Kind Rewind.
We might as well begin with the elephant in the room. Your opinion of Michel Gondry probably depends entirely on your opinion of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I've heard tell that there are people who believe that the film is wildly overpraised and overrated. If you're one of those people, you should probably just skip the next two paragraphs. I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the great films of our time. Is it the brilliant, original miracle of a concept that many fans think it is? Probably not. As the world's unified naysayers love to remark, there really aren't any new ideas. The basic message of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is essentially the same as the joke Woody Allen uses to close Annie Hall. Romance is bizzare, unpredictable, and often miserable. But in the end "we need the eggs." What Eternal Sunshine does do is present these themes and ideas in a wonderful package, beautifully combining the sentimental with the sarcastic, the romantic with the realistic. It do so with such cleverness, how could its director not be considered among one of modern cinema's greats?
Charlie Kaufman. While I love Kaufman (including his much debated Synecdoche, New York) it's unfair to write-off the contribution of Gondry. Was Kaufman's script responsible for the surprisingly pared-down, career-best performance of Jim Carrey? Was it responsible for Kate Winslet's deserving Oscar-nominated turn as Clementine? Of course not. Nor can Kaufman be credited with decisions like filming the house destruction finale with flashlights for lighting, maximizing the intimacy and emotional impact. If Charlie Kaufman's script is the reason that the film is, then Gondry's direction is the reason the film works and if Gondry had made no other films, this one may still alone qualify him to be a Modern Maestro. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has moments of such visual inventiveness and such bittersweet profundity that to watch it is to be reminded why I fell in love with the movies.
Nothing like using up two paragraphs on the same film to underline what I'm sure Gondry already knows is the downside of the success of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It may indeed be the greatest film the man ever directs. It will also likely be the film that overshadows all of his other efforts. But there's something admirable about how Gondry soldiers on, attempting to stay as prolific as possible. He's produced four (and a third?) films since 2004, not a record, but in today's indie film climate, not a bad pace either. With The Science of Sleep, Gondry's most notable film aside from Eternal Sunshine, the director continues to fish around in the lovelorn mind, pondering if any logic can be applied to the wondrous workings of the heart. Here, as in Eternal Sunshine, in fact as in all of Gondry's films, his characters are perpetual man-children, lacking the maturity and sensibility that could win them the girl. And yet good sense can't possibly coexist with the ludicrous impulsiveness of love, can it? Gondry mocks any such notion with the title The Science of Sleep just as he did in his first film Human Nature (Where scientists displayed and discovered anything but clear though in mankind's quest for love).
The Green Hornet, a film already facing a mixed reaction. Whether it will be good, I can't say, but I'm sure it will be interesting, arresting, unconventional, as can be expected from the director of... let's say, "many good films."