Michel Gondry


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Michel Gondry (France, 1964) directed music videos for the likes of Bjork and Radiohead. Human Nature (2001) was scripted by Charlie Kaufman.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), also scripted by Charlie Kaufman (Being Malkovich), and whose titled is taken from Alexander Pope's "Eloisa to Abelard", is a love story that employs a non-linear narrative structure, the puzzle-like recombinant storyline, so that figuring out the plot is half of the suspense. But the other half is still poignant. In fact, the memory-related puzzle a` la Memento is used to enhance the love story, and to turn it into a titanic, metaphysical parable of the human condition: we can't escape our destiny, and the only thing that can overcome our destiny is to accept it even knowing what it implies, i.e. to be proud of being the imperfect, aching, doomed beings we are.

(Block 1). A man, Joel, wakes up. He is tired and confused. As usual, he walks out to go to work, but finds that his car has a huge dent on one side. Thinking it is a neighbor's fault, Joel leaves him a sarcastic "thank you" note. As usual, he drives to the train station and then waits for the train. But an irresistible impulse tells him to take the train in the opposite direction, a train that takes him to a beach. As he walks around the beach, he remembers Naomi, the woman he used to live with, and ponders his timidity with women. A woman is, in fact, staring at him. She tries to make eye contact, but he is shy, despite the fact that he is basically following her. Finally, they take the same train back to town, and she comes on to him. Clementine and Joel seems to be both lonely and gentle souls, and get along really well. But she is talkative and extroverted, whereas he is hardly talking at all. She wins him over and takes him to watch the stars from a icy lake. They have the best evening of their lives. Then he drives her home. As he is waiting, a strange kid asks him if he needs help, and Joel starts crying.
(Block 2). The scene is not continued. The movie restarts with Joel getting home, alone, and going to bed early with a sleeping pill, while two men wait outside in a van, as if they were going to rob his apartment. As he falls asleep, the two mysterious men enter his apartment, wrap some circuitry around his head and plug it into their computer.
(Block 3). Joel then tells the story of how be brought a Valentine Day's gift to Clementine and she didn't even recognize him: she was kissing someone else. He talks to his friends Rob and Cary about this. They seem a little annoyed by his whining, and eventually Rob hands him a receipt: it says that Clementine had all memories of Joel scientifically erased by a company named Lacuna. Joel goes to Lacuna and talks to the pretty secretary Mary, who introduces him to the company's founder, Howard, who confirms that Clementine had all memories of Joel erased. Joel decides to have all memories of Clementine erased too, and Howard introduces him to the technician who will perform the operation, Stan.
(Block 4). Back to his apartment, Stan and his colleague Pat (the same man who asked Joel if he needed help while he was waiting for Clementine in her parking lot) are performing the operation. JOel is half conscious: his memories mix the voices of the two strangers, as they chat and talk to people over the phone. Joel sees himself in previous scenes, as in dejavu.
(Block 5). Clementine comes home very late and tells Joel she has just wrecked his car (the same dent that he discovered in the first scene). He is furious and insults her. She walks out of his life. His memory is still confusing past and present, memories (of Clementine) being erased and memories (of the two strangers in his apartment) just being created.
(Block 6). Clementine comes home very late and tells Joel she has just wrecked Mary shows up at the apartment. She says she wants to help, but she is clearly there to party with Stan. Pat also has a girlfriend, and she calls him. Pat takes off and the couple starts drinking, smoking pot, dancing naked on Joel's bed, while Joel is deep asleep and the machine is chasing his memories and erasing them. It turns out the girl whom Pat is seeing is precisely Clementine. He has been seducing her using information that he gathered from her erasing procedure: basically, he is behaving like Joel, and she has no memory that all those actions and words were Joel's. he even gives her the Valentine Day's gift that Joel has bought for her. In the meantime, Joel is trying to hang on to the most beautiful memories. His unconscious is sort of consciously trying to cheat, to fool the machine and the technicians, by hiding his dearest memories in places where they cannot be found. Joel sees again the tender moments he spent with Clementine, albeit in a chaotic fashion, and talks to her in his unconscious, explaining that they need to hide from the erasing machine, i.e. deeper and deeper into the subconscious, into childhood memories that have been untouched for decades. And they succeed: the machine stops. Stan panicks and calls Howard. In the meantime, Clementine is confused, insecure, crying, despite Pat's attempts at providing all the attention and affection she needs. Howard arrives. Mary claims she came to assist Stan and learn the firm's business. Howard realizes that memories of Clementine have migrated off the cerebral "map" that the machine built of Joel's memories of her. This never happened before, but Howard is capable to restart the machine and direct it to those areas of the brain. Again, Joel's subcoscious takes his fondest memories of Clementine to deeper and deeper recesses (for example, when he was caught masturbating by his mom), i.e. off the map again. Howard keeps tracing them and erasing them. Joel sees entire places and people disappear from his memory.
Stan, now useless, walks out of the apartment. Mary is attracted to Howard and causes a major distraction. She kisses him, and he can't resist. Just at that moment, Howard's wife arrives, suspicious that her husband left his bed at that time of the night. Howard runs out to explain that it was just a mistake, but his wife reveals that it was not: Mary was indeed Howard's lover for a long time, and one day her memory of this was erased. Mary is shocked to learn that she herself has been the customer of a memory erasure, and realizes how cruel it is. May goes to the office and finds Howard's file on her. Each file includes a cassette that has the customer tell the story. In her cassette she talks about her relationship with Howard. She has no memory of it, but it hurts to hear herself talk about something that she does not remember.
Joel remembers the party at the beach, thrown by Rob and his wife, where he first met Clementine: that is not the place where we saw them meet the first time (although it is the same beach). They became friends right away, and in the evening they broke into an abandoned house. He sees the house disappear as Howard keeps chasing his memories. Joel and Clementine realize they cannot stop the erasing and kiss goodbye.
Howard and Stan have completed the erasing operation and leave Joel's apartment.
(Block 7). Joel wakes up, tired and confused (the first scene). He walks downstairs and finds a big dent in his car, and, not remembering anything about Clementine, thinks that a neighbor did it. At the train station, an impulse tells him to take the train to the beach, where he meets Clementine. They don't recognize each other and behave as if it was their first meeting. Then takes her home and waits in her parking lot. Pat has been stalking Clementine and, seeing Joel there, knocks at his window (the strange kid of block 1). But that morning Mary has quit her job and walked away with all the files of all the patients, and then mailed all the cassettes to all the patients. Clementine finds her own and plays it in Joel's car. Joel, hurt by what she says about him, dumps her. Clementine realizes something really odd has been done to them, and walks to his apartment. He is listening to his own tape, and as shocked as her. She is also hurt hearing what he said of her. They are both angry at each other, but they begin to understand. And they accept each other, even knowing that it will lead them to arguing and hating each other.
The correct sequence is that Joel and Clementine met at Rob's party on the beach. They became lovers. Then they had an argument (block 5) and decided to have it erased by Lacuna (the technician who performed the erasure, Pat, fell in love with her, and used her erased memories of Joel to seduce her). Then Joel found out (block 3) and decided to have his memories of her also erased. Then (block 2) the technicians came to his place to perform the erasure, while (block 6) he unconsciuosly tries to save at least one memory of her. In the meantime, Mary found out that she used to be Howard's lover. Then (block 1 and 7) he woke up with no memories of Clementine, but felt an unconscious impulse to go to the beach, where he met her again without knowing who she was. They fell in love again at the icy lake. He took her home. Mary (block 7) resigned and stole the files of all the patients. Both Clementine and Joel heard each other's confession, and realized they had been lovers. Despite the embarrassing revelation, they decided to get back together.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Angela Castellano)

Se mi lasci ti cancello (2004) sceneggiato da Charlie Kaufman (Essere John Malkovic), il cui titolo è una citazione della poesia di Alexander Pope "Eloisa ad Abelardo", è una storia d’amore caratterizzata da una struttura narrativa non lineare, ossia da un intreccio che si compone come un puzzle così che già solo immaginare come si ricomporrà la trama conferisce al film metà della suspence. Ma l’altra metà è altrettanto densa. Infatti il puzzle di ricordi in stile "Memento" è utilizzato per rendere più intensa la storia d’amore e mutarla in una gigantesca parabola metafisica della condizione umana: non possiamo sfuggire al nostro destino ma possiamo sovrastarlo anche sapendo ciò che questo implica, ad esempio essendo orgogliosi di essere creature imperfette e sofferenti quali siamo.

(Prima sequenza) Un uomo, Joel, si sveglia. E’ stanco e confuso. Come al solito, esce per andare a lavorare ma trova una grossa ammaccatura sulla fiancata della sua auto. Pensando che sia colpa del vicino, gli lascia un ironico bigliettino di ringraziamento poi guida fino alla stazione e aspetta il treno. Ma un impulso irresistibile gli dice di prendere il treno nella direzione opposta, un treno che porta ad una spiaggia. Mentre cammina sulla sabbia, ripensa a Naomi, la donna con cui ha vissuto, e valuta la sua timidezza con la donne. Una donna che infatti lo sta osservando prova a cercare il suo sguardo ma Joel fa il timido, nonostante sostanzialmente la stia seguendo. Alla fine prendono lo stesso treno per tornare in città e lei gli si avvicina. Clementine e Joel sembrano entrambi persone piuttosto sole e gentili e vanno subito d’accordo, ma tanto lei è loquace e estroversa quanto lui taciturno. Alla fine lei lo convince ad andare a guadare le stelle su un lago ghiacciato, passando così la più bella notte della loro vita. Poi Joel l’accompagna a casa. Mentre l’aspetta, un ragazzo dall’aria strana gli chiede se ha bisogno di aiuto, e Joel inizia a piangere.

(Seconda sequenza) La scena non continua. Il film ricomincia con Joel che rientra a casa solo e va a letto presto con un sonnifero, mentre due uomini aspettano fuori in un furgone come se dovessero entrare nel suo appartamento per rubare. Appena Joel si addormenta, i due uomini misteriosi entrano nel suo appartamento, avvolgono la sua testa con un circuito e lo collegano al loro computer.

(Terza sequenza) Joel racconta ai suoi amici Rob e Cary di aver portato un regalo di San Valentino a Clementine ma che questa non lo ha riconosciuto: stava baciando un altro. I due amici sembrano un po’ seccati dalle sue lamentele e alla fine Rob gli porge una ricevuta che dice che Clementine si è fatta cancellare scientificamente tutti i ricordi legati a Joel da una compagnia di nome Lacuna. Recatosi lì Joel parla con una ragazza molto carina, Mary, la segretaria della compagnia. Questa lo presenta al fondatore, Howard, che gli conferma che Clementine si è fatta cancellare i ricordi di Joel. A questo punto Joel decide di farsi a sua volta cancellare i ricordi di Clementine , quindi Howard lo presenta a Stan , il tecnico che eseguirà l’operazione.

(Quarta sequenza) Stan e il suo collega Pat (che è poi lo stesso ragazzo che aveva chiesto a Joel se aveva bisogno di aiuto mentre questi stava aspettando Clementine nel suo parcheggio) stanno eseguendo l’operazione. Joel è in uno stato di semi coscienza: i suoi ricordi si fondono con le voci dei due sconosciuti che chiacchierano tra loro e parlano al telefono, mentre Joel si rivede in scene precedenti, come in un dejavu.

(Quinta sequenza) Clementine torna a casa molto tardi e dice a Joel di aver danneggiato la sua auto (la stessa ammaccatura che egli scopre nella prima scena). Joel è furioso e la insulta. Lei decide di uscire per sempre dalla sua vita. Nel frattempo la memoria di Joel sta ancora confondendo tra passato e presente, fra i ricordi di Clementine che vengono cancellati e quelli delle due persone nell’appartamento che vengono creati in quel momento.

(Sesta sequenza)Mary arriva all’appartamento di Joel dicendo di essere lì per dare una mano mentre è evidente che è lì per spassarsela con Stan. Nel frattempo Pat chiama la sua ragazza e decide di andarsene. Quando Pat se ne va, i due iniziano a bere, fumare erba e a ballare mezzi nudi sul letto di Joel, che nel frattempo è profondamente addormentato, mentre la macchina sta braccando i suoi ricordi per cancellarli. Salta fuori che la ragazza che Pat sta frequentando è proprio Clementine. L’ha sedotta usando le informazioni ricavate dalla procedura di rimozione dei ricordi. In pratica Pat si sta comportando come Joel mentre lei non ha idea del fatto che tutte quelle parole e azioni fossero appartenute al suo ex. Pat arriva addirittura a darle il regalo di San Valentino che Joel le aveva comprato. Contemporaneamente Joel sta tentando di salvare i ricordi più belli; il suo inconscio sta cercando consciamente di ingannare la macchina e i tecnici, nascondendo i suoi ricordi più cari in posti dove loro non possono trovarli. Joel rivede i momenti più dolci passati con Clementine, sebbene in maniera molto caotica e nel suo inconscio le parla, spiegandole che devono nascondersi dalla macchina, per esempio negli angoli più remoti del suo subconscio, in quei ricordi infantili che sono stati ignorati per decenni. Così facendo i due riescono a bloccare la macchina. Preso dal panico Stan chiama Howard. Nel frattempo Clementine, sempre più confusa e insicura, sta piangendo nonostante i tentativi di Pat di darle tutte le attenzioni e l’affetto di cui lei ha bisogno. Howard arriva da Stan, Mary dice di essere lì per aiutare Stan e imparare di più sulla loro attività. Howard si accorge che i ricordi di Clementine sono usciti dalla mappa cerebrale che la macchina aveva disegnato. E’ la prima volta che succede una cosa simile ma Howard riesce a far riprendere la macchina e a indirizzarla nelle giuste aree del cervello di Joel, il cui subconscio porta di nuovo i momenti più cari negli anfratti più remoti del cervello (ad esempio quando era stato beccato a masturbarsi dalla madre) e quindi fuori dalla mappa. Howard riesce comunque a rintracciarli e a cancellarli mentre Joel vedere luoghi e persone scomparire dalla sua memoria.

Stan, ormai superfluo, se ne va dall’appartamento. Mary è attratta da Howard e lo bacia. Proprio in quel momento arriva la moglie di Howard, sospettosa per il fatto che il marito è uscito di casa a quell’ora della notte. Howard corre fuori per spiegare che si è trattato di un errore ma la moglie rivela che non si è trattato affatto di un errore: al contrario Mary è stata per molto tempo l’amante di Howard e un giorno si era fatta cancellare i ricordi inerenti alla sua relazione con lui. Mary è sconvolta di sapere di essere stata lei stessa oggetto di una cancellazione di memoria e realizza quanto questa operazione sia crudele. Va quindi in ufficio e trova l’archivio di Howard su di lei. Ogni archivio include una cassetta in cui il cliente racconta la sua storia. Nella sua, lei parla della sua relazione con Howard e si sente ferita dall’idea di non averne alcuna memoria.

Joel ricorda la festa sulla spiaggia organizzata da Rob e sua moglie, in cui incontrò per la prima volta Clementine: non è la stessa situazione dove li abbiamo visti incontrarsi all’inizio (sebbene la spiaggia sia la stessa). Joel e Clementine diventano subito amici e di sera fanno incursione in una casa abbandonata. Man mano che Howard insegue i suoi ricordi, Joel vede la casa scomparire. Alla fine Joel e Clementine accettano l’idea di non poter fermare l’operazione di rimozione e si baciano per l’ultima volta.

Completata l’operazione, Stan e Howard lasciano l’appartamento di Joel.

(Settima sequenza) Joel si sveglia, stanco e confuso (prima scena). Scende le scale e trova una grossa ammaccatura sulla sua auto e, non ricordandosi niente di Clementine, pensa sia stato il vicino. Alla stazione, un irresistibile impulso gli dice di prendere il treno per la spiaggia, dove incontra Clementine. I due non si riconoscono e si comportano come se fosse il loro primo incontro. Poi lui l’accompagna a casa e l’aspetta nel parcheggio. Pat si avvicina furtivamente a Clementine e, vendendo Joel lì, bussa al finestrino (è il tipo strano nella sequenza 1). Ma proprio quella mattina Mary, lasciato il suo lavoro, ha portato con sé tutte le cartelle dei pazienti e ha spedito le cassette. Clementine quindi trova la sua cassetta e la ascolta nella macchina di Joel. Questi, ferito da ciò che lei dice di lui, la fa scendere dalla macchina. Clementine capisce che qualcosa di strano è successo e va da Joel. Qui trova Joel che ascolta la sua cassetta ed è sconvolto quanto lei. Anche lei è ferita da ciò che lui dice di lei nella cassetta. Entrambi sono arrabbiati l’uno con l’altra ma iniziano a capire. Quindi si accettano pur sapendo che il tempo li porterà nuovamente a litigare e a detestarsi.

La Science des Reves/ The Science of Sleep (2006), this time scripted by Gondry himself, stages a whimsical love story as an excuse for a recombinant plot with a subtle doppelganger theme (the protagonist and his love have basically the same name) and Freudian undercurrents (the relationship between mother and son).
The film fails as a psychological drama a` la Hitchcock because the protagonist's persona is only half baked and there is never an acute drama. In fact, even the dreams are harmless. His surrealistic dream sequences look naive and sex-less compared with the classic surrealism of, say, Bunuel and Dali, and the cartoon sequences are more closely related to Jean-Pierre Jeunet's fantasies than to Terry Gilliam's dystopian visions. It feels more like a Christmas fairy tale, even after the nervous breakdown. The love story has the melancholy flavor of Francois Truffaut's "400 Blows", not the psychotic flavor of "Psycho".
The narrative highlight perhaps consists in the imaginary tv show (scenes during which the protagonist self-psychoanalyzes through imaginary interviews and debates). Visually, the highlights are the toy landscapes.
It is impressive that Gondry's script maintains a tight coherence even with all the back and forth between dream and reality, but there is little to grasp in the shallow love story other than the fact that the protagonist (possibly still a virgin) has been affected all his life by this disease (falling asleep like a child and having very realistic dreams that then drive his real life). In a sense, this is an autobiographical film: the dreamer is Gondry himself, who, as a filmmaker, is much better at shifting in and out of reality than at psychological analysis.

Stephane, who has lived in Mexico and speaks better Spanish and English than French, returns to France, where his mother has found him a job, but the job turns out not to be what he imagined: instead of being hired as a creative graphic artist, the company simply wants him to do manual work on custom calendars. He has a better idea: a calendar that devotes each month to a famous disaster. The boss kicks him out. The print shop seems to have only three employees: Guy (who is the only one who knows how to operate the typesetting machine), Martine (who takes care of the ski special) and her assistant. They actually want him to be Guy's assistant. At home he cooks a photo of the boss. Then he hurts himself with a shaver and throws it to the floor, where it keeps shaking. We see his actions on a screen in the wall behind him and the room is now a television studio with a big banner that says "Stephane TV". He dreams that he has big hands and is in the print shop. The shaver moves by itself like a tarantula. The boss commits suicide jumping from the window. He wakes up in his bed and talks to his mother on phone, complaing about the shitty job. He is both in bed and in the "Stephane TV" studio with the screen behind him showing footage of when he was a child (and his mother is sitting next to him). Someone drills a hole in the wall above his bed: the neighbors are working on something. He meets them when two men drop a piano on him while carrying it up the stairs (a scene reminiscent of the slapsticks of a century earlier). The piano was for his neighbor Stephanie, whose friend Zoe is helping her move. Zoe disinfects his wounded hand and Stephanie looks eager to keep in touch. She later finds an excuse to invite him in her apartment. Stephane pretends that he doesn't live in the same building. When he dreams again, however, it is Martine who appears in his bathtub while the city is wobbling outside his windows. He wakes up from the nightmare and finds footprints that go from his bathtub out of the bathroom to Stephanie's door... He realizes that he himself has left those footprints while asleep and uses a coat hanger to get back the note that he has written in which he was asking for Zoe's number. Stephanie has a humble job and at work tells Zoe, who is a coworker, that she had found Stephane's delirious note and simply put it back where he had left it. Stephane doesn't know that Stephanie and Zoe know of his obsession for her friend Zoe, and that they know he lives next door. The girls toy with him: Staphanies calls him and invite him over, and he still pretends to live far away; then Zoe and Stephanie see him leave his apartment and come back to knock at Stephanie's door. The trio goes out drinking and Guy meets them at the bar. Guy flirts with Zoe, who reciprocates, but then the girls leave and Stephane dances with and kisses another girl. He gives Stephanie a piece of music that he composed for her piano. Stephane has dinner with his mother and her partner, Gerard, a professional magician. His mother mentions that, as a child, Stephane couldn't tell dream from reality. Stephane invents a machine that reacts to rapid-eye movement and dreams a world of toy-like architecture in which he is love with Stephanie but she rejects him. They work on a project together. He gives her a gift: the one-second machine, that goes forward or backwards in time but only for one second. Every time they press the button, the film rewinds for one second. In the next nightmare he dies on a mountain when they go skiing. He wakes up and his feet are indeed frozen. He waits for her to leave for work and then breaks into her apartment to install a motor inside a stuffed animal. In "Stephane TV" the girl asks him to kiss her. In reality she catches him in his apartment and calls him a "creep" but then she finds the motorized stuffed animal and is touched by the gift. She calls him and he asks her to keep talking to him until she falls asleep. Then he falls asleep and she asks him to describe what he sees, and he (in his dream) does so while she listens in her room.
The scene shifts to a party. It turns out that the boss accepted Stephane's idea for a disaster-based calendar and it was a big success. His mother, Gerard, Stephanie and his coworkers are all there to celebrate his hit. During the party he tries to grab Stephanie's hand but she instead dances with another man. He gets drunk watching them get closer and closer until he collapses to the floor. He has a nightmare in which he has to run away chased by the police, and then gets cornered while trying to escape in a toy machine and commits suicide. He spends a day with Guy, who, fed up with tv news, decides to throw his tv set in the river. Stephane slaps him in the face to make sure it is not a dream. The following morning Stephanie is waiting for him in the stairwell. Stephane vents his anger, she is hurt and thinks all he wanted from her is Zoe's phone number. Now he realizes that she had read the note. He hugs her and apologizes. Then he rushes to work to tell Guy that Stephanie read a letter that, he thinks, he only wrote in a dream. Guy tries in vain to tell him that he is about to get fired for being always late, and Stephane instead tells him that he has an important date with Stephanie and leaves again. Guy is fed up with this endless love story and orders him to kiss her for real. In Stephane TV his coworkers and his mother debate the situation. Stephane is running to his appointment with Stephanie when an old man confronts him and shouts that the date with Stephanie is only taking place in his imagination. Stephane, terrified, uses the one-second machine against him and runs back home. He knocks in vain at her apartment's door and even hits it with his head until he bleeds: she is at the coffee shop waiting for him and nervously smoking a cigarette, disappointed that he stood her up. His mother bids him farewell: he has decided to fly back to Mexico, but first he is going to visit Stephanie one more time. This time in front of her the shy Stephane becomes aggressive and delirious. He talks about sex and she, offended, insists that he leaves. She threatens to call his mother as if he were a child. He breaks into tears because she doesn't like him and falls asleep in her bed, next to his one-second machine. He dreams that they are riding a horse together in an idyllic landscape, the horse being the stuffed animal that he motorized for her. And finally the horse jumps into the white boat that they were building together.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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