Gondry, Michel 1963–
Gondry, Michel 1963–
PERSONAL: Born May 8, 1963, in Versailles, France; children: Paul.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Partizan Ltd., 7 Westbourne Grove Mews, London W11 2UR, England.
CAREER: Music video director in London, England, and Paris, France, 1990–; director of commercials, including for companies Volvo, Smirnoff, Adidas, and Levi's, 1995–. Drummer and video director for band Oui Oui, c. 1980s. Director of films and videos, including High Head Blues, Def American Recordings, 1995, Vingt pétites tours, 1989, Björk: Volumen, 1998, D.A.F.T., 1999, Massive Attack: Eleven Promos, 2001, Human Nature, 2001, I've Been Twelve Forever, 2003, The Chemical Brothers: Singles 93-03, 2003, The Work of Director Michel Gondry, 2003, and Master of Space and Time, 2006. Actor in films, including D.A.F.T., 1999, and One Day …, 2001.
MEMBER: D&AD (charity).
AWARDS, HONORS: Golden Lion, Cannes Film Festival, 1995; three silver awards and British Advertisement of the Year award, D&AD, 1995; Silver award, D&AD, 1996; Clio Award Grand Prix, 1996; named European MTV Best Director of 1996; best director of 1997 award, and feature film video of the year award, both Music Video Production Association, both 1998; International Jury Award for best black-and-white film, Cork International Film Festival, 1998, and FICC Prize, Öberhausen International Short Film Festival, 1999, both for La lettre; Celebrate New York Award, 2004, and Academy Award for best screenplay (with Pierre Bismuth and Charlie Kaufman), 2005, both for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
La lettre (short film; also released as The Letter), 1998.
One Day …, 2001.
Pecan Pie, 2003.
The Science of Sleep, 2005.
(Author of introduction) Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (screenplay), Newmarket Press (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: "Michel Gondry," declared critic Todd Pruzan in Print magazine, "has done a lot of things." "The French director," Pruzan continued, "is … blessed with the hyperactive imagination and attention span of a teenage nerd, dreaming up, designing, and directing some of the past decade's most inventive TV commercials and music videos." Gondry has also solidified his reputation as one of the most innovative film directors of the early twenty-first century through two critically acclaimed movies: Human Nature, released in 2001, and the Academy Award-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, released in 2004. Critics agree that Gondry's uniqueness comes from his tendency to approach subjects in a highly individual way. "'Michel is probably one of the last true artists working as a director—he could be compared to [Charlie] Chaplin and the influence he had in the '20s and '30s,' said Georges Bermann, founder of Partizan, Gondry's commercial production company," the Print contributor concluded. "'He probably would have belonged to the surrealist group and been one of the leading creative members, along with Duchamp, Ernst, or Bunuel,'" Bermann added, as quoted in Print. "'Today, there is no group like that any more, and he's just one-of-a-kind.'"
Considered "a legend for his music-video and advertising work" at the time his first feature film debuted in 2001, according to Jeff Chu in Time International, Gondry has been "setting the standard for other French directors who are giving Hollywood a Gallic accent." He was born and raised outside Paris, in the village of Versailles, and attended art school for a time before flunking out. He spent some time as a drummer in a rock band, but first found his métier when he picked up a camera to shoot a video of one of the band's songs. That video was seen by Icelandic pop star Björk, who hired him to direct a video for her in 1993. Soon he was also directing quirky advertisements for television, including a spot for Levi's jeans titled "Drugstore," which was honored with the Golden Lion award at the Cannes Film Festival and has become the most award-winning commercial of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. "Many of Gondry's videos, commercials and short films, plus a charming documentary called I've Been 12 Forever," declared Kevin Lally in Film Journal International, "are collected on a Palm Pictures disk entitled The Work of Director Michel Gondry—one of the best DVDs you can own."
By 2001 commercials and music videos had brought Gondry to the point where he could try his hand at directing his first feature film. The result, "Human Nature," reported Paula Carson stated in Creative Review, "stars Patricia Arquette, Tim Robbins and Rhys Ifans in a funny, sometimes tragic look at the interplay between a hirsute woman, a feral young man and a repressed rodent researcher." The script, written by Charlie Kaufman—who also wrote the hit Being John Malkovich, "is not about culture and repression," according to James Parker in American Prospect, "any more than Being John Malkovich was about celebrity and identity." "In the film, Arquette is Lila, a beautiful misfit with full body hair who thinks she looks like an ape and tries to live in the woods," Richard Linnett commented in Advertising Age. "Ifans is Puff, a man raised as an ape who already lives in the woods. And Tim Robbins is Nathan, a dweeb scientist who romances Lila, tames Puff and is eventually murdered in the woods."
Nathan and Lila discover Puff in the woods, and Nathan immediately sees in him a subject for experimentation. He attempts to introduce Puff to the accepted values of civilization, values which to Puff make no sense at all. For her part, Lila is attracted to Puff, partly because he offers her a chance for sexual satisfaction and partly because he represents the pure, unsullied Nature she abandoned to live with Nathan. Eventually, Lila and Puff meet and satisfy their mutual urges. The story "has a few more twists after that," Todd McCarthy wrote in Variety, "but while the approach remains pranky and the mood buoyant, the idea begins feeling played out before the finish line is in sight. Partly it's because the theme of civilization existing to repress sexuality, while comically exploitable for a while, has so many more angles than can ever be raised here." Nonetheless, the film demonstrates "truly brilliant direction and inspired acting," Linnett concluded, "especially by Robbins and Ifans."
Gondry's second major film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, takes stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet through an emotional roller-coaster. Carrey, as the reclusive Joel, and Winslet, as the free-spirit Clementine, become involved in a relationship that ultimately turns sour. Clementine seeks a high-tech solution to the resulting pain: she has her memories of Joel erased by a brainwashing machine. Joel, distraught, seeks the same solution, but he realizes that Clementine is being manipulated by the machine's technicians, and is forced to try to find places to hide his memories of her from the machine's actions. "The story's emotional dynamic is hard to miss, as are its glancing but touching reflections on the centrality of memory in defining one's personality," wrote McCarthy, "and the richness and value of both positive and negative memories in the overall scheme of life." "Gondry figures out how to keep the special effects special," stated Mark Steyn in the Spectator. "He shows Joel's memories vanishing around him … but because these effects occur within Gondry's overall scheme—a scurfy, hand-held camera roaming a prosaic suburban landscape—they don't overpower the story." "Gondry's virtuosity lifts the film far past science fiction into cinematic efflorescence," concluded Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic. "He shows us, more seductively than other directors have done, how freehand use of film can capture the flashes in our minds that slip between words."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advertising Age, April 15, 2002, Richard Linnett, "Adages," review of Human Nature, p. 44.
American Prospect, May 6, 2002, James Parker, "Of Mice and Monkeys: The Brilliant, Depthless Nonsense of Human Nature," p. 28.
Campaign, June 21, 2002, "Legends of Commercials Production: Established Directors," p. 4; April 23, 2004, review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, p. 10.
Commonweal, April 23, 2004, Rand Richards Cooper, "Scaling the Depths," p. 18.
Creative Review, October, 2001, Paula Carson, "Michel in Dreamland," p. 30.
Entertainment Weekly, April 19, 2002, Owen Gleiberman, review of Human Nature, p. 47; February 13, 2004, Neil Drumming, "Director's Cut: Michel Gondry," p. 72.
Film Journal International, April, 2004, Kevin Lally, "Brain Twister," p. 18, and review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, p. 99.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August, 2004, Lucius Shepard, "Forget about It," review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, p. 123.
New Republic, April 5, 2004, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, p. 26.
New Statesman, May 3, 2004, Mark Kermode, review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, p. 54.
Newsweek, April 15, 2002, Devin Gordon, "Talk about a Hairy Situation: Probing 'Human Nature,'" p. 56.
Print, September-October, 2004, Todd Pruzan, "Self-Made Maniac," p. 41.
Shoot, May 1, 1998, Millie Takaki, "Michel Gondry Named Director of the Year at the MVPA Awards," p. 7.
Spectator, May 1, 2004, Mark Steyn, "Mental Hygiene," review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, p. 50.
Time International, April 26, 2004, Jeff Chu, "Here Comes the Sun," p. 112.
Variety, May 28, 2001, Todd McCarthy, review of Human Nature, p. 19; March 15, 2004, Todd McCarthy, "Romantic 'Mind' Games," p. 38.