Michel Gondry is a French filmmaker most famous for directing and co-writing the 2004 film ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ for which he, Charlie Kaufman, and Pierre Bismuth won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Prior to his feature film debut titled ‘Human Nature,’ he made a name for himself as a music video director—working with such artists as Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers, Bjork, and The White Stripes. He often incorporates his personal thoughts and fears from his childhood into his work—most notably, a recurring nightmare in which his hands grow to an enormous size.

Gondry actually got his start as a music video director after making music videos for his own band called Oui Oui—he was the drummer. Icelandic singer Bjork noticed his work and hired him to direct the music video for her song ‘Human Behavior.’ He has also directed a variety of television commercials and one he made for Levi’s holds the Guinness World Record for ‘most awards won by a TV commercial.’ His style most resembles that of a creative child. Everything is inventive and crafty—with practical effects and production design often made from ordinary materials. And this mise-en-scène always fits the narrative of his films, which often follow creative and child-like protagonists. Gondry has described himself as someone who has been twelve years old ‘forever.’

Two years after directing ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ Gondry directed the first film he wrote entirely himself titled ‘The Science of Sleep,’ which follows a quirky young man who falls in love with his neighbor. The film plays heavily with dreamlike imagery, which Gondry has had a strong interest in since his early work. After ‘The Science of Sleep,’ he wrote and directed the Jack Black/Mos Def comedy ‘Be Kind Rewind.’ The film wholly incorporated his hand-made budgetless aesthetic, which ignores imperfections in favor of creative solutions. In ‘Be Kind Rewind,’ a video store clerk and his friend must remake or ‘swede’ all of the movies they carry after the tapes get erased. They go on to remake the movies using whatever they have on hand, much in the same way children might creatively play around with a video camera. With the era of YouTube in full swing, people from around the world were encouraged to express their creativity and ‘swede’ their favorite movies in short form with whatever materials they had. This included a remake of ‘Taxi Driver’ by Gondry himself.

Gondry followed ‘Be Kind Rewind’ with 2011’s ‘The Green Hornet,’ which was a slight departure from his low-budget aesthetic. ‘The Green Hornet’ applied Gondry’s inventive charm to a more mainstream and high budget studio film. Gondry was originally attached to the project back in 1997 and the film was going to be his feature film debut. After the film entered ‘development hell,’ many other directors were attached and then removed until it finally ended back with Gondry as the director.

He returned to the low-budget indie world the following year with ‘The We and the I,’ a film that takes place entirely on a bus as students travel home from their last day of high school. The film was an American production shot in New York City, but he would return to France for his next two films—the first of which was an adaptation of a 1947 novel— ‘Froth on the Daydream’ by Boris Vian. The film is titled ‘Mood Indigo’ and follows the relationship of a couple as they fall in love and the woman falls ill. The film is tremendously clever and whimsical, despite such an ultimately tragic story.

Gondry has also done three documentaries—‘Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,’ ‘The Thorn in the Heart,’ and his most recent, ‘Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?’ in which Gondry animates a conversation he had with notable philosopher Noam Chomsky. His latest film titled ‘Microbe & Gasoline’ for which Gondry was the sole writer, follows two young boys who build a house/car hybrid to travel away from their hometown and all the people who mistreat them. Gondry said that the first half of the film is based on his actual experiences growing up and the second half is a fantasy. The film perfectly mixes Gondry’s unique personality and creativity and sheds light on his personal perspective.

“I really had the complex that my father had at some point— to not be good enough. And then I decided I would go for it. I decided I would be as good as Picasso or whatever and obviously there is a difference. But, I mean, at some point, if you want to consider yourself as somebody who creates things, you have to just ignore all that and just say okay, what you’re doing, what you’re putting out is different because you put yourself into it.”

Clips used:

‘Human Nature’ (2001 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (2004 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘The Science of Sleep’ (2006 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Be Kind Rewind’ (2008 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘The Green Hornet’ (2011 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘The We and the I’ (2012 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Mood Indigo’ (2013 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Microbe & Gasoline’ (2015 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Dave Chappelle’s Block Party’ (2005 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘The Thorn in the Heart’ (2009 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?’ (2013 dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Around the World’ by Daft Punk (Music Video dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Let Forever Be’ by The Chemical Brothers (Music Video dir. Michel Gondry)
‘The Hardest Button to Button’ by The White Stripes (Music Video dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Human Behavior’ by Björk (Music Video dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Bachelorette’ by Björk (Music Video dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Everlong’ by Foo Fighters (Music Video dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Drugstore’ by Levi’s (Commercial dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Junior Et Sa Voix D’Or’ by Oui Oui (Music Video dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Dance Tonight’ by Paul McCartney (Music Video dir. Michel Gondry)
‘Be Kind Rewind Sweded Trailer’
‘Taxi Driver Sweded by Michel Gondry’
‘I’ve Been 12 Forever’ (2004 dir. Michel Gondry)

‘Generique Stephane’ by Jean-Michel Bernard
‘Around the World’ by Daft Punk
‘If You Rescue Me’ Science of Sleep Sountrack
‘Theme’ by Jon Brion

This video essay was written, edited, and narrated by Tyler Knudsen.