The Gondry quandry
WHAT ARE WE to do with Michel Gondry? There’s no denying that the director speaks in the most singular of cinematic voices. With films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he has shown that, when constrained by a strong script, he can effectively combine emotional grit with psychedelic fireworks. Unrestrained by a third party, however, his films tend to toward the indulgent madness of The Science of Sleep.
With that in mind, you might reasonably approach this documentary in a hopeful frame of mind. A quiet study of a beloved relative – Michel’s indomitable aunt, Suzette Gondry – sounds like the sort of beast that might draw out hidden reserves of discipline and restraint. As it turns out, there’s too much bleeding discipline. Too much blasted restraint.
A former teacher whose gay son seems almost as odd as his filmmaker cousin, Suzette certainly comes across as an admirable person. But, as the movie meanders its way from one dull conversation to the next, it proves hard not to wonder how anybody outside the family could remain interested (not to say awake).
Far from disrupting the flow, the director’s few moments of creative indulgence come as something of a relief. A model train illustrates Suzette’s travels throughout life and, in one modestly effective moment, he projects a print of the 1941 film Remorques, which Suzette once showed her pupils, for his milling, half-interested extended family.
The documentary only properly comes alive when, for no good reason, Gondry stages a scene in which schoolchildren don costumes that make them invisible. At such points, it seems as if even the director himself has become bored with his core story.
Would Gondry fare better with a major studio lurking imposingly over his studio? Does he need to swim in the mainstream for a spell? We’ll find out next week when The Green Hornet, his retelling of an ancient crime series, explodes onto screens.
It runs in the family: Michel and Aunt Suzette Directed by Michel Gondry