I met with Michel at a hotel in last week to talk about his latest film. After about 20 minutes, Audrey let herself into the room, plopped down on the bed between us, and joined the conversation.
Photo courtesy Michel Gondry
Audrey Tautou, famed for her role in Amélie, isn’t the easiest person to cast in your film. So when Michel Gondry was ready to shoot Mood Indigo, his whimsical adaptation of Boris Vian’s 1947 novel, Froth on the Daydream, how did he ask her to play the part of Chloé? He made the inquiry in the form of an animated short, of course. Tautou agreed to take the role; she just hadn’t gleaned from Gondry’s cartoon that the production was already a sure thing.
In the film, which premiered last Friday, Chloé is the subject of a trippy enchanted romance. She pairs with Colin (played by Romain Duris), a pretty, do-nothing-rich-kid working on a needlessly French invention: a piano that mixes different drinks based on the notes played. Plagued by an illness which requires Chloé to be constantly surrounded by fresh flowers, Colin must take up employment as a gun maker which requires him to constantly lay around with his dick pressed into a mound of dirt—because that’s where guns come from (duh).
The couple meet for their first date in one of Paris’s ugliest sins, Le Forum Des Halles: a shopping mall-construction site in the center of town that’s been in the works for decades. Still, the two are charmingly swept off their feet by a magical cloud car, and proceed on a date that feels more like an acid trip. But what else do you expect from the guy who made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?
I met with Michel at a hotel in SoHo, New York, last week. After about 20 minutes, Audrey Tautou let herself into the room, plopped down on the bed between us, and joined the conversation.
VICE: So, you’ve had a lot of questions about the book?
Michel Gondry: I’m going to discourage you from starting by asking me questions about the book.
Everyone reads it in France as a teenager?
Yeah, that’s one of the difficult things about doing this adaptation from French, because it’s not like a book that very few people know about, or have read. Everybody has read it. Like, everybody.
And there have been adaptations of it in the past, right?
Yes, there have been adaptations, but they were not very big or famous.
How do you think the people who read the book as children will feel about the film?
Some people find it like they imagined, and other people had a different idea, so they feel it’s intrusive to the imagination. It's complicated because I made it the way I imagined it, and I understand that other people had imagined it differently.
The characters are younger in the book than in your film, right?
It’s true, yes. It was hard for me to imagine. There are these actors, very young, in their early 20s in French theater, who have this thing where they are a little bit—or very—self-centered. I don’t know why. I mean, I guess it’s because when they come into film and acting they look at themselves too much in the mirror. I couldn’t think of an actor from this generation who I’d like to work with, so I went a little older and went with Audrey and Romain because I felt they were great actors and they didn’t have these image issues I see in younger actors.
Michel Gondry and Romain Duris. Photo courtesy Michel Gondry.
I didn’t know what to expect from Mood Indigo because I wasn't familiar with the book. I saw the poster for it, thought of your previous work, and thought it might be a good idea to show up to the press screening with a couple hits of acid.
Really, you took some acid?
No, it was clear I didn’t need to after it started. But maybe I made a mistake?
You have to try it. I mean—I don’t want to push you to use drugs. Sometimes people ask me if I use drugs, but I’m too scared to take drugs.
A few years ago in Brooklyn there was an art show that had a pianococktail—like the one Colin is building in the film—on display. Did you see that?
The pianococktail is very famous from this book. I remember something to do with that, but then there was also the shit machine, where you’d feed the machine food and it would process it like the body. It was really funny. It would poop a shit. That, to me, is a bit similar. It’s like a machine that does something that a human does in a sort of organic way.
Of course, you don’t drink the shit, but there are some similarities, I would say.
There's a scene in the film where a room full of women sit in front of a conveyer belt with numerous typewriters on it, and each one types a few words before the machine goes on to the next woman. Something about that reminded me of the Jean Luc Goddard film Tout Va Bien, and I was wondering if it was a comment on the French work ethic.
Yeah, well, the book is making fun of some of that. Bertrand Russell made a book about laziness as a quality. You’re tricked by society into believing that work is necessary and good for you. I think it’s good for you when you like your work; it’s not good for you if you don’t like your work. It’s as simple as that. There is a comment on work in the book, and I couldn't agree with it more. Colin, for instance, could work very hard on his pianococktail, but it’s not so fun that he has to work on writing this book, or this story, or work in a factory building guns, and stuff like that.
Colin’s a bit of a vagrant with a trust fund, right?
Yeah. I mean, he’s really against working, it’s very humiliating to him. And there’s that part where he says "Oh, bad news. I have to get a job." It’s sort of in contrast to the heaviness, or bad news of Chloé’s sickness. It’s sort of ironic that the worst thing is that he would have to work.
But he becomes less self-centered, right?
Yes. He becomes dedicated to Chloé, but yes, he’s very self-centered in the beginning. He’s very eager to show his invention (the pianococktail) to his best friend, and then he finds love and becomes more centered on his girlfriend. He becomes devoted to her.
Colin and Chloé go to Le Forum Des Halles, an underground market in Paris, for their first date. I've been there, and that place is a hole. Why that spot?
Oh, yeah, well, it’s ironic. When I grew up they used to have this big market there, and then it was a hole for years, in the '80s. It took forever to build this market center. And then they changed it. So it’s been up for 20 or 30 years, and then they'll change it again. That’s why Chloé (Audrey Tautou) says the true Des Halles is back again, because it’s truly been a hole for most of its life.
Chloé (Audrey Tautou), Colin (Romain Duris) float above Les Forum Des Halles, Paris. Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films.
Was that your favorite scene to shoot, Chloé and Colin's cloud car ride above the hole of Des Halles?
No, it was a nightmare. It was very complicated.
Actually, the scene where there is interaction between the actors, and they have this nice scene, this very dark scene where Alise comes to visit Chloé, and she’s trying to open the window and they get smaller and smaller. Then she puts a flower on Chloé, and they have this nice little discussion about lovers and I thought that was a very sweet moment where you saw friendship in this really crazy world where everything is shrinking, you still have something that is very much alive.
Chloé (Audrey Tautou) surrounded by flowers to cure her illness. Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films.
And there were some scenes like that where the acting was very vivid I think, despite the crazy things going on around them.
And then there’s the Jean Paul Sartre, or excuse me, the Jean-Sol Partre cult following. Were you ever into him?
Well, I read Nausea, which I thought was very impressive, but I read a lot of his stuff that was very heavy. I think it was a bit overrated. I think he has this position that you couldn’t say that communism in the USSR was a bad thing, and he wanted to lie to people about it, and there was this big argument with Albert Camus, where he wanted to be honest about it, and I think Camus was a much deeper philosopher, and a better writer than him.
[Audrey walks into the room.]
Audrey Tautou: Hello, I’m going to take a little nap.
It just seems strange to me that people would want to collect the hair of Sartre. It doesn’t seem like him.
It was like that at the time! There were really these fans of Jean Paul Sartre that Boris Vian made fun of. And as well, later on, Sartre stole Vian’s wife, Michelle. That was before, but I think Vian was making fun of how there was something a little bit snobby about him.
Yeah! I think the parity that would make them closest now would be like Steve Jobs and Apple, and people who wait for the next product.
I’ve totally done that before.
I wanted to use that type of thing, but then I thought it was too far from the book.
Audrey, how did Michel get you to work on this film?
Tautou: Well, he sent me a cartoon, a little short animation movie that he had done for me where he was asking me to play in his movie. But I didn’t know that he was working on a movie, so I didn’t understand. So I asked him to explain it to me in a more conventional way—I ruined his effect. [Laughs] No, no, no. But I thought it was a very nice thing, and a great premise for the future.
Gondry: The last cartoon that you see at the end of the film was made by Audrey, frame by frame.
Tautou: Yes, he did one for me and I did one for him.
Audrey Tautou and Michel Gondry. Photo by the author.
Gondry: That’s really her character that is doing the drawing for real, and then we shot it together on a weekend with my camera.
Tautou: So I didn’t get bored waiting in between scenes.
How many frames?
Gondry: A lot. Three hundred. It’s a very smooth animation, very impressive. I had to push her. I am good at pushing people to be creative. And there is this one thing that no one ever knows, is that Paul McCartney plays on the soundtrack. He plays a bass in the score, in half of the tracks.
You don’t care. Nobody cares.
I mean. You seem so unimpressed right now.
If you were to say that to me right now I’d be like, “WHAT THE FUCK?!!” And you are just like, ‘oh.’ I was hoping I would impress him, Audrey. I’m sorry you’re not—I’m sad you’re not impressed by this thing I’m very proud of.
Which was your favorite scene to perform in, Audrey? Did you enjoy riding in the cloud car?
Tautou: Everything was just so new and a surprise everyday that, you know, I had my food for a whole year. Je crois qu'il n'a rien compris de ce que je lui ai dit.
I can’t answer to what was my favorite scene, but I can say the one that I hated the most.
Tautou: The one in the cloud car, because I was afraid. It was very scary.
Gondry: She was really afraid because she was high in the sky. It was super high, and she had vertigo, and when she’s up there talking to Romain (as Colin), it was a DP that was sitting instead of Romain. But I think for the vertigo, you could feel the vertigo, it was nice.
Chloé (Audrey Tautou) and Colin (Romain Duris) sit on a bench. Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Fims.
So if that was terrible, then what’s the coolest date you’ve ever been on?
Tautou: The coolest date?!
Tautou: Well, we don’t do dates in France.
Gondry: You just go and have sex.
Tautou: You just go and go. [Laughs]
Gondry: You just send a text message, and you meet and have sex. We don’t do this bullshit.
Tautou: Less expensive, you know.
Gondry: And then you get pregnant.
Follow Daniel Stuckey on Twitter