Michel Gondry is a man unafraid to let flights of fancy inform, and sometimes drive, his whimsically serious films, which include MOOD INDIGO and THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP. Yet in MICROBE AND GASOLINE, his semi-autobiographical film, he has kept his gift for magical realism in check, focusing instead on the magic of friendship at a particular age. That would be adolescence, and the boys, with the eponymous nicknames, come from two very different social strata the small, but historical, town of Versailles. Both, though, have difficult home lives, with mothers who are ill, and fathers who don’t know how best to cope. Their solution is to build their own eccentric car and run away for the summer to experience the freedom of the open road.
When we spoke by phone on July 1, 2016, Gondry revealed his sly sense of humor as we covered the obvious question of how he used, and didn’t use, the facts of his childhood in the film, why kids at that age form such intense friendships, the insights he gained by being mistaken so often for a girl when he was a kid, and why he chose to reign in his penchant for surrealism for this film. We finished up with my asking him what it was like having those conversations with Noam Chomsky, and then animating them, for IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?, We started though with my asking him about reliving the angst and the optimism of adolescence. Was it cathartic? Was it joyful?
MICROBE AND GASOLINE is a film about friendship, family, and using one to escape the other. Picked on in school, Microbe, so monikered because of his stature, strikes up a friendship with Gasoline, the new kid in school, whose ever-present aroma leads to his nickname. Gasoline has a genius for building machines, including the one that he hopes will take him far from his dour family, and back to the site of the summer camp where he spent a golden season among women with, ahem, excellent attributes. Microbe, longing to escape his mother’s increasingly troubled bi-polar disorder, joins in the plan, and devises a way around the legal snags attendant on such an unconventional vehicle traversing public highways by disguising the vehicle as a charming mini-cottage, complete with geraniums in the window. Traveling both the open road and the tricky path to adulthood, the boys encounter trouble, mistaken identity, and American football on the backroads and small towns of France. The film stars Ange Dargent, Théophile Baquet, Diane Besnier , Vincent Lamoureux, and Audrey Tatou. Gondry directed from his own script, and his previous work includes THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, HUMAN NATURE, THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY, and MOOD INDIGO.