- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

French film director Michel Gondry says keeping a Charlie Kaufman fable in proper balance is "not easy."
"It's not like day-to-day life," Mr. Gondry says.
He should know. Mr. Kaufman wrote the screenplay for Mr. Gondry's adroit feature debut, "Human Nature," which is playing at a handful of local theaters. It juggles a set of rotating sex triangles among four characters, played by Patricia Arquette, Tim Robbins, Rhys Ifans and Miranda Otto.
Mr. Kaufman's fanciful sense of humor emerged in "Being John Malkovich." Mr. Gondry and Mr. Kaufman, an American, were introduced by a mutual friend and colleague, Spike Jonze, the director of "Malkovich."
The Kaufman-Gondry partnership will be renewed this fall with a currently untitled comedy about memory loss and psychological confusion starring Jim Carrey. Set in the near future, it concerns an embittered suitor who decides to submit to a brain-probing procedure that is claimed to erase memories. The protagonist wants to forget a recently estranged girlfriend, but fate will trifle with him.
Mr. Gondry, interviewed by telephone from Los Angeles, describes Kaufman fables as "very stylized."
"I thought the story [for 'Human Nature] needed to be removed from ordinary reality in some ways, but on the character level, I tried to be very realistic. The good part is that the characters seem believable and vulnerable even as they do these fantastic things. Patricia's character goes off to live in the wild. Tim's character wants to teach mice table manners. But if you like them, you can follow them in their most treacherous situation in the story. It's exciting to try to figure out how to translate such writing to the screen."
Mr. Gondry says he struggled a lot with English during the early phases of the project. "For a while, the actors could not understand me," he recalls. "By now I can work pretty well with the actors, but I could have made things easier by having English lessons as a schoolboy. The better schools were thought to prefer German to English. It's not at all practical. In fact, it's entirely stupid. If you go to Germany, you might as well use English."

Mr. Gondry grew up in a suburb of Versailles. His father worked for an electronics company, and his mother was a musician. He has a younger brother "who works with me often" as a special effects designer. An older brother "prints political and alternative T-shirts."
While enrolled in an art school in Paris, Mr. Gondry thought of himself as an aspiring illustrator or painter. Rock 'n' roll pointed him toward filmmaking. As the drummer in a band called Oui Oui, he took it upon himself to shoot promotional videos with his own money.
Along the way, he also acquired a 16 mm camera and began improvising short films. "Little by little," he says, "I got offers to do videos for other bands, with bigger and bigger budgets."
Oui Oui eventually disbanded.
While flourishing as a director of music videos, Mr. Gondry branched out to commercials. He achieved instant esteem with a Levi's spot, "Drugstore," that began collecting most of the eligible awards of 1994, starting with a grand prize in the commercials side show at the Cannes Film Festival. The Levi's association endured for several years. So did a collaboration with the singer Bjork, who turned to Mr. Gondry for half a dozen music videos, starting with "Human Behavior."
The experience of seeing one of his commercials projected onto a theater screen in London convinced Mr. Gondry that composing for the big screen might be exhilarating. "I realized the medium was entirely different," he says. "There's just more drama to both the visual and the narrative when you're watching a very large image in a dark room. I started to look for scripts and for an agent familiar with the movie business. It seemed to be that Los Angeles was the best place to be to direct a movie. It took me a really long time before I got a script I liked."
When his career in commercials and music videos was heating up in the early and middle 1990s, Mr. Gondry split his professional time between Paris, London and Los Angeles. For the past few years, he has been half-Parisian and half-Angeleno. He has a 10-year-old son in Paris.
"I did a short film in France, but I found it harder to make the right connections. You had to be more of a writer in France to get to direct a first movie," he says. "They're still very influenced by doctrines of the new wave from 40 years ago. There is even a whole outdated trend called 'camera stylo,' which equates the pen and the camera."
Mr. Gondry had become acquainted with Mr. Jonze through festival and professional contacts. "I read the script for 'Being John Malkovich' and really loved it. Spike introduced me to Charlie, and we started to work together on the film we will do this fall with Jim Carrey. But in the meantime, I read more of Charlie's spec scripts. One I liked immediately was 'Human Nature.' I thought it would fit me very well, that I could do something unique with it. So I pleaded and finally convinced him to let me do it."
The director had seven weeks and a modest budget of $8 million to work with on "Human Nature," shot for the most part in Los Angeles, with studio sets and back projection simulating many sequences that appear to be exteriors.
He was able to bring along a trusted crew from his music-video and commercial projects. Miss Arquette also was a booster, having appeared in a Gondry video for the Rolling Stones.
"Doing movies is less free than video, but I wanted to change that a little bit," Mr. Gondry says. "I tried to loosen up the shooting."

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