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Eternal Sunshine of the Gondry mind-set



Feature by: Jack Foley

FRENCH director, Michel Gondry, doesn’t mince his words when talking about the things that inspire or frustrate him.

The director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is therefore gushing in his praise for co-writer, Charlie Kaufman, as well as his stars, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, but is equally scathing when it comes to articulating his fury concerning corporations and politics.

Gondry looks set to become one of modern cinema’s innovators. Having cut his teeth on commercials and pop videos, he ventured into movies, with writing partner, Kaufman, for the little-seen Human Nature [starring Tim Robbins, Rhys Ifans and Patricia Arquette], before wowing American critics with Eternal Sunshine.

The film explores the concept of memory, and features Carrey as a love-struck, everyday guy, who is distraught to find that his girlfriend, Winslet, has suddenly erased all memory of him.

Out of bitterness, he does the same thing, but, mid-procedure, decides that he wants to hold onto the happier moments, and begins, frantically, to hide them, before the technicians succeed in their task.

The story is another of those compelling, off-beat creations from Kaufman, whose previous work includes Being John Malkovich, and the Oscar-winning Adaptation.

And it provides an excellent showcase for Gondry’s talents, who confessed to always being challenged by the writer, in spite of his own reputation for taking risks - Gondry can lay claim to being the most highly-awarded director for one commercial (Levi), and invented the technique of several cameras taking pictures in the same time around somebody, made famous by The Matrix.

"I was saying this morning that he gets on my nerves because I always have to justify my ideas," he explained, from a suite at the Covent Garden Hotel. "But then, at the end of the day, he makes me smarter, because I have to dig very deep to find out why I want to do something.

"You can really count on him to tell you if he likes it or not, without any compromise at all, which is a very rare quality. He just focuses on what he thinks is right or wrong.

"Sometimes I get irritated, because I wish I could just work with my instincts, but then, at the end of the day, I find it great that he makes me more intelligent."

Not so rewarding, however, is the feedback from other people, who are often quick to criticise his desire to be different, especially when working in movie format.

"Every single person in the street comes up with a comment," he explains, when asked about the main difference between making movies and pop videos. "And, often, they are not embarrassed to say they hate it, which I find kind of mean. If they don't like it, they should just not talk to me.

"Seriously! I always tell my friends, it's fine if you don't like my movies, just don't say it to me, because it has taken four years to do it. People assume that you're in such a great position, as a director, but it's not true, it can be really painful.

"I mean, my best friend saw my first film and said that he really loved the final five minutes, and then made some more comments.

"And his opinion is fine, but I told him, 'listen, you should consider me as a child', because if you have a child, you would not say to him 'oh look, you're tiny, and you're weak, and you're not very pretty!' You need to be able to preserve a little bit if self-confidence."

It is a comment made with the sort of assertion that seems typically French and typically arrogant, but which certainly seems valid at a time when there are too few risks taken within mainstream cinema nowadays.

"I think people who are non-creative sometimes get upset because you are creative," he added, when explaining instances of cinema-goers accusing him of ‘wasting two hours’ of their lives.

And for Gondry, the frustrations don’t stop when it comes to working within the industry, which is equally as reluctant to embrace innovation.

Recalling an experience he had when trying to incorporate some of his ideas onto the DVD release of Human Nature, the director became quite animated.

"One week before the DVD was out, they sent me a copy for approval, and I said, 'where's my idea'. And they said, 'oh, we didn't have time to do it, it was too complicated'.
"So it was like, why do you show it to me if you can't do these things? And why do you misspell the name of Robert Forster? You have to change it.

"But they then said, 'oh, we don't change the spelling if it's not one of the two main characters'. I mean, why the f**k would they give me this thing to approve? What do you expect from me? That's what we have to deal with all the time...

"I did my own DVD with everything that I wanted, and it took six weeks to do it. So it is all possible. I think everything is possible when people put their mind to it. Stop thinking it's not possible, that's the only thing I ask you. Ninety nine per cent of my energy is spent saying to people, 'listen, it's not 'not possible', ok?"

In spite of this philosophy, however, there are some things that Gondry refuses to do, on ethical grounds, such as filming commercials for cigarette companies and the Army.

The latter, in particular, is a sensitive subject, especially when Gondry is given the opportunity to comment on the current military climate.

"Those guys who advertise the Army every five minutes are just so unethical to me," he said. "I don't usually make political statements, but I seem to be putting my brain out at the moment.

"I just feel sometimes that somebody should draw this right. One Iraqi equates one human being. I'm so sick of being in America and hearing everybody talking, for 10 hours, about some guy who's been taken hostage and how horrible it is.

"It is horrible, yes, but it is just one thing that is happening out there. Sometimes there are 100 Iraqi's dying, because they are getting bombed, and they never mention that. And I don't understand the concept of there being a difference between two human beings.

"Like reading a newspaper, and in small titles, there is a headline 'plane crashed in India', and then in big type, 'three American citizens...' I mean, f**k you!"

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