Michel Gondry: “Pierre Niney has the same testosterone level as me”

It's the great (and very good) French comedy of the fall

Michel Gondry: “Pierre Niney has the same testosterone level as me”

It's the great (and very good) French comedy of the fall. With The Book of Solutions, in theaters on September 13, Michel Gondry signs a hilarious film that made the public squirm a lot during the last Directors' Fortnight in Cannes. The story of a tortured filmmaker who refuses to watch the images from his latest film and flees to the countryside with his rushes. There, with his editor (Blanche Gardin, in a calm register that makes sparks in the face of the ardor of Pierre Niney) and his manager (very funny Frankie Wallach), he tries to find inspiration and make a film of odds and ends. pitcher.

Michel Gondry: It is undoubtedly my most autobiographical film, ahead of The Science of Dreams [2006, Editor's note]. I went so far as to film in the house in the Cévennes where the events happened. This film relates a moment of chemical imbalance during the filming and editing of L'Écume des jours, ten years ago. I think I had a complex towards Boris Vian. I had put enormous pressure on myself. I imploded at that point. But don't think this represents my productions, filming and editing! At the time, my son came to see me in the Cévennes. He told me later that he would have liked to make a documentary. This tickled me. I then started to write little cards on ideas, actions, events. I lined up these cards on the floor and saw that it was starting to tell a story.

You then decide to make a film about it…

I did it mechanically, without really believing in it. You never believe it when you start a film. So many projects fall through! Succeeding in making a film, in materializing ideas, is always a miracle. We go from the idea to the script, and from the script to the drawing, to the storyboard. Ideas are like bubbles passing in front of you. We catch one. It changes into glass, materializes, then it breaks when the film comes out. When we see the finished film, we can think that there is a goal behind it. Me, my only goal is to continue practicing my profession. That of making movies.

It is not easy. There was the shock wave of Covid-19. Then the writers’ and actors’ strike in Los Angeles.

A historic strike…

It's not as historic as that. American screenwriters are a bit like air traffic controllers in France. We are not very surprised when they go on strike. Today, famous actors no longer advertise watches in Japan, but for yogurts in the United States. Everything went down a notch. I shoot commercials for a living, and the competition has increased a lot. For films, it's the same. But I'm lucky.

Do you think that with the rise of streaming platforms, cinema is dead?

I don't claim to be a film expert. I just note that Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola took advantage of the confusion of the 1970s, when the studios no longer knew the recipe for making hits. This allowed them to have access to big budgets and to make masterpieces from completely personal films. After that, the big studios took over the directors. We see it today with superhero movies and remakes. Generations after Scorsese and Coppola, like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, emerged independently. But they got worse and betrayed their early ideals. One thing annoys me in the United States: you can't not be a Kiss and Star Wars fan. It's like saying in France that we don't like Les Quatre Cents Coups by Truffaut. For my part, I like Back to the Future. In my mind, cinema is a square of the Lumière brothers, Edison, Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey. They had the idea of ​​observing movement as one observes bacteria or viruses. It is the machine that has made it possible to restore the movement. Like Galileo who had the idea of ​​taking a telescope and looking at the planets. As if we were inventing a new meaning for the human body.

Do you like shooting with old cameras?

I like both things. The digital format is now. It also has a lot of advantages. If I shot a film with old cameras, I would have the impression of making black and white, of being nostalgic. On the other hand, I still use my 16-millimeter format Bolex camera a lot. After more than sixty years of existence, it is still the most practical device for me to make animations. There is one perforation per image. No need for electricity. The Bolex also has a huge tolerance in exposure. What you need is for there to be a vibration somewhere when you film. Something that escapes us a little. A material, a grain of film that vibrates. Björk educated me on this topic. She was very tempted by nostalgia. But she said: “Nostalgia is definitely one day a month. The rest of the time you have to think about the present and the future. »

Did you use your Bolex for The Solution Book?

What did you think of Justine Triet’s speech in Cannes on pensions?

I think it’s good that she used this platform of expression to talk about it. It's horrible to have a so-called left-wing president raising the retirement age at a time when cinemas and supermarkets have fewer and fewer employees. In supermarkets, I refuse to go to the self-checkout. I have a proposal: a law so that the machines that replace people pay pensions. That way, we would think before replacing people with machines.

I had to identify with the actor. Although he is much younger, he has a testosterone level that is somewhat equivalent to mine. He doesn't carry his masculinity on his shoulders. Pierre Niney has a slightly annoying side, which I have too. He manages to remain endearing despite all his efforts to be unpleasant. Above all, he has perfect timing and diction. He tumbles in front of the camera, and we can immediately play with the nuances. I was lucky to have supercasting.

What is your next project?

It is a musical produced and somewhat written by Pharrell Williams. He wrote the music. She recounts her youth, in 1978, in Virginia Beach, Florida. In particular, there will be nine choreographed songs. The project was pushed back a year due to the writers' and actors' strike.

Are you going to shoot series as is the fashion for many directors?

I've already done it. I do not like at all. In a series, the screenwriter tells you where to put the camera. This I cannot accept. That's not what being a director is. We carry the film on our shoulders, we take responsibility. It is the technical choices that make a film special. And I love the ritual of the room. This waiting in the dark and sharing when the light returns. It is an act of resistance to the immediate pleasure of video games and sugar.