Screened as part of NZIFF 2004

Michel Gondry Retrospective 

Directed by Michel Gondry

This programme of films may well offer more cinematic invention per second than anything else in this year’s programme.

83 minutes


Michel Gondry was born in Versailles in 1963, grew up only moderately twisted, and in the 1980s found himself in Paris, in art school and in a pop group, Oui Oui. Michel the drummer soon became Michel the video director, and in 1992 one of his whimsical, nostalgic Oui Oui videos caught the eye of Icelandic star-in-waiting Björk, who asked Gondry to direct the video for her first solo single, ‘Human Behaviour’. The song and video were hits, and two stars were born. 

Gondry continued his association with Björk while also directing memorable and innovative clips for such acts as Sinead O’Connor, Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry, Beck, Chemical Brothers and the White Stripes. Several of his music videos, including ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, ‘Around the World’ and ‘Come Into My World’ set new benchmarks for the form. 

Gondry effortlessly diversified into directing commercials for Levi’s, Nike and, famously, Smirnoff, but he experienced a rather more problematic transition to feature filmmaking. His first effort, Human Nature, from a script by Charlie Kaufman, was a commercial and critical flop, but his second Kaufman project, this year’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has been acclaimed. The quirky poignancy of that feature came as no surprise to aficionados of the short films celebrated in this programme. 

Michel Gondry’s output represents one of the most satisfying contemporary meetings of art and commerce. All of these films are, for better or worse, commercials, and yet they are also deeply personal. Gondry often draws his inspiration from dreams or childhood memories, and in ‘Knives Out’ he is unafraid to transform recent personal trauma into ostensible entertainment. 

Many of his works are dreamlike and rambling, in the traditions of venerable surrealists (Buñuel), experimental psychodramatists (Deren) and blackly comic animators (Švankmajer); others are paragons of concision, formalist masterpieces obsessively tracing a single idea to its surprising conclusion. He shows an equal facility for developing new modes of expression from cutting-edge digital imagery and from bare-basics home-movie tricks. 

It’s possible, in true auteurist tradition, to trace the development of visual and thematic ideas from video to video. ‘Let Forever Be’, for example, takes cheesy late 70s/early 80s video effects as its starting point, getting dazzling results from painstakingly reproducing those primitive kaleidoscopic smears as actual choreography. His brilliant ‘The Hardest Button to Button’ takes the same idea and gives it an even lower-tech treatment, with equally striking results. (A similar developmental relationship can be observed between the abstraction of ‘Around the World’ and that of the sublime ‘Star Guitar’). 

For all that his films reflect personal preoccupations, the director is always true to his material. Despite their conceptual similarity, it’s as hard to imagine a better visual accompaniment for the Chemical Brothers’ churning neo-psychedelia as it is to envisage a more fitting representation of the White Stripes’ primitive stomp. — Andrew Langridge

Bolide – Oui Oui (1986, 2 mins), Les Cailloux – Oui Oui (1989, 3 mins), La Ville – Oui Oui (1992, 4 mins), Human Behaviour – Björk (1993, 4 mins), La tour de Pise – Jean-François Coen (1993, 3 mins), Je danse le mia – IAM (1993, 4 mins), Drugstore – Levi’s Commercial (1995, 2 mins), Lucas with the Lid Off – Lucas (1995, 4 mins), Like a Rolling Stone – The Rolling Stones
(1995, 4 mins), Resignation – Polaroid Commercial (1996, 1 min), Sugar Water – Cibo Matto (1996, 4 mins), Smarienberg – Smirnoff Commercial (1996, 1 min), Around the World – Daft Punk (1997, 4 min), Everlong – Foo Fighters (1997, 5 mins), Bachelorette – Björk (1997, 5 mins), Drumb and Drumber (1998, 1 min), Timelapse Tests (1999, 1 min), Let Forever Be – The Chemical Brothers (1999, 4 mins), Leo – Nike Commercial (1999, 1 min), Privacy – Earthlink Commercial (2001, 1 min), Knives Out - Radiohead (2001, 4 mins), Fell In Love with a Girl – The White Stripes (2002, 2 mins), Star Guitar – The Chemical Brothers (2001, 4 mins), Dead Leaves & the Dirty Ground – The White Stripes (2002, 3 mins), Come Into My World – Kylie Minogue (2002, 4 mins), Swap – Levi’s Commercial (2003, 1 min), The Hardest Button to Button – The White Stripes (2003, 4 mins).