Michel Gondry Premiers The Book of Solutions With Some 'Solutions' of His Own

Dreamlike reflections from the acclaimed surrealist director

On Oct. 6 at the Club de l’Etoile in Paris, Lost in Frenchlation—which presents French movies, old and new, with subtitles for English speakers—organized a premier screening of Le Livre des Solutions, or The Book of Solutions. 

It follows a quirky director, Marc (played by Pierre Niney), who kidnaps his film-in-progress from its producers, sets up shop with a skeleton crew in an aunt's country house, and tries finishing it with no budget and total improvisation.

Check out the trailer below. We can't find a version with English subs.

This is the latest film by Michel Gondry, best known for directing and co-writing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Fun fact: Today he finds that film "unimpressive," and is annoyed by people who say it's their favorite, or juxtapose it with more recent creations. (He also says it draws unfavorable and unfair comparisons to Charlie Kaufman.) His solution for getting people to forget Eternal Sunshine is dramatic and maybe only half in jest: "My next film is going to be really crap, so people will say they liked my last movie better."

Gondry appeared at the end of the screening to talk about The Book of Solutions and creativity overall. While he's best known for movies, he's made a distinctive mark on TV shows (like our fave ep of Flight of the Conchords), music videos and advertising.

To illustrate the latter, below is "Le Passage," created in 1999 for Air France. It's an iconic piece of brand memorabilia that uses perspective in a childlike way, fusing realism with joyful magic.

For Gondry, Solutions reflects who he was as a young filmmaker. He admits to having tried a lot of Marc's shooting experiments—like "conducting" an orchestra by having them interpret his body, or making a side-project "documentary" by stalking an insect. (Sadly, the "camiontage," or "editruck," a weirdly functional gift Marc offers his long-suffering editor, never saw the light of day.)

Maddeningly for those working with him, Marc refuses to watch the 4+ hours of the film that's already been shot, a rising source of conflict. He instead lets himself be guided by one of his thousands of seemingly procrastination-driven side projects: A Book of Solutions. This silver bullet in the making ostensibly contains all the answers to any theoretical problem. It starts blank, then, as the movie progresses, he notes his epiphanies feverishly (usually well before they can actually be tested). 

Marc's creative process is non-linear, hard to follow and ultimately frustrating for even the most patient members of his entourage. In addition to being a story about youth, creativity and mad conviction, The Book of Solutions also explores how each of our endeavors constitutes its own journey, unique and—for many—probably impossible to systematize for future ventures.

In the style of The Book of Solutions, we noted some points Gondry made in his Q&A—about creativity, the movie industry and life. We paraphrased when necessary.

Solutions, reflections and admissions from Michel Gondry

"When you've convinced somebody of something, stop talking and change the subject. Don't feel guilty for convincing them, then keep talking and talk them out of it. I have lost a lot of business that way."

"When you feel like you're about to say something stupid, stop talking." (He took his own advice a few times that night.)

Asked about how filmmaking differs in the U.S. vs. France, Gondry mused, "I don't think like that. The main difference is money. In the U.S., there's more money. The more money you have, the more equipment, but less freedom."

"When you do shitty work, it's better if it's yours. There's nothing worse than making other people's shitty work. But if it's your own, at least you tried something and learned it doesn't work."

A companion from BETC, who accompanied us that night, asked Gondry why so many of his protagonists are so physically similar—Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine, Gael Garcia Bernal in The Science of Sleep, and now Pierre Niney in The Book of Solutions.

I briefly thought he had broken Gondry with his question; that's how long he sat frozen with his mouth open, trying to decide if he really wanted to say what he wanted to say. "I don't think they're similar," he began, then stopped. Finally, he admitted that because his work is by nature a projection of himself, none of it would work with big, attractive and charismatic men. It's no secret how those men are able to move through life; if they're entitled or irritating, people don't question how they got to be that way.

Gondry prefers male protagonists with what he called "neutral testosterone," a description that generated indulgent laughter. He elaborated, "I need people who need excuses to behave the way they do." As an example, he offered his current protagonist Marc, who's insufferable most of the time. He'd be a different kind of unbearable if he were macho and handsome; one might be inclined to give him more of a pass. Marc's passes need to be earned (and they're not always. He is messy and not easy to forgive, even when you're trying).

Asked why the English subtitles of the movie seem more wholesome than the actual language spoken on screen, Gondry said he likes to check the captions for fidelity across a lot of the big-market countries, like the U.S. and Japan. In the case of English, he doesn't like the word "fuck," and seems to think it's an overused, lazy way to fling swagger at a situation. But beyond that…

"The English language in terms of insults is very poor," he said frankly.

Inevitably, someone asked about Gondry's storytelling process. "Talking about what storytelling is gets too philosophical," he replied, explaining that it yields answers that sound deep but are superficial. His description of a story was more down-to-earth—obvious to anyone who's ever described something that happened to them, for entertainment or otherwise. This also explains, in some sense, his dreamlike directorial style, which seems to operate from the forever-malleable canvas of memory. 

"For me the story is when [something that's happened] is finished, then you remember it and it's a story."

Lastly, we got a sense of what else is in the pipeline. He's always wanted to try making a musical, and says he's been working on one with Pharrell Williams. "It's been on hold for two years," Gondry mused. "Maybe in the spring."

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Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is the European markets editor at Muse by Clio. She also writes about gaming and fashion, and whatever else she's interested in, really. She's based in Paris and North Italy, so if you're local, say hi. She might eat all your food.

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