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Director Michel Gondry and his actors Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris talk about creating a fantasy Paris for their film, Mood Indigo. Gondry reveals how he blended the futuristic, surreal visuals with a love story and the trio debate making a sci-fi film without digital effects.
Audrey, I believe you were a big Boris Vian admirer, long before you made this film.
Well, I had read L'Écume des Jours when I was a teenager and I think that as every teenager, I felt cleverer by meeting this masterpiece. So... and that’s it you know. But I mean, I know what is the deal and everything for French young generation of new readers. This story is very special.
And what does Boris Vian and his spirit represent? Because he was the kind of, the great hipster of post-war Paris. He wrote this novel in 1947 and, how have you tried to put this kind of spirit into this film?
Well, I'd like to correct the fact that he was not a hipster, because he never met success during his lifetime. Now, retrospectively, he has become maybe one. But, he did not meet success and that's one of the reasons why he tried out many different jobs. So, it's sort of ironic that one of his novels, most of his work, became so recognised, because it was like twenty, thirty years after he passed away. So, what was the question? I've forgotten the question.
Well, it's about his spirit, but I think you have distilled a bit of that spirit. When I think about Boris Vian, one of the things about him was that he was in that world of late 40s Jazz clubs, those damp cellars.
Yeah, it is true, his friend was Jean-Paul Sartre.
It's the surrealistic movement also, you know.
This was always considered to be an impossible book to film, although it has actually been filmed, I think, twice before this. A French version and more recently...
The Japanese version.
The Japanese version. So, have you seen those versions? Is this film very different?
No, I didn't look at them, because when I got the opportunity to direct the movie, I didn't want to. If it was too good, it would have depressed me, and if it was bad it would have depressed me too. So, I avoided to watch them, maybe I should watch them now.
Romain Were you aware of the book? And, if so, what...
I'm a bad example, because I didn't. When I was a teenager, I didn't fall in love with the book, because I think, I just read the love story, you know, and I didn't realize all of the dark side in the book. So, because of Michel, thank you man.
I have the opportunity to read this dark side.
What did it feel like when you read the script? Because, I can imagine this thing landing on your table, and you know, it's got mice, it's got something called a Pianocktail. I can't imagine what it would be like to read it.
Yes, but on the first page it was "Michel Gondry", so, you know.
So you didn't read it in fact. Lazy.
That was the reason.
That's why you wanted to do it, because you accepted to it.
Now the funny thing is when you read the script and when you read the book of course, I don't know if you read it but, when you read the script and you read that, they are in the clouds and they come up above the roofs and they do a tour. We're like "Okay, okay, okay." it's impossible to do that, you know. All the script was totally impossible to make. And, also, because we knew that he didn't want to do any digital effects, because of course everything is possible. He just wanted to have his spirit and keep this very truth of, way of making special effects. So this is really something. So I think we were kind of curious to know how you would be able to deal with this crazy, so many crazy ideas and impossible to show in a way.
I think, Michel has the same poetry than Boris Vian, but as a filmmaker and Boris Vian as a writer, you know. So the mix, when we read the script, the mix, we thought that "Okay, this is going to be interesting."
And there is something peculiar about the poetry of this film, because, what you're doing in your images is you're taking his poetic images from the novel, which are almost puns, you know, they're wordplay, Pianocktail, but you're making them real. You're putting them into three dimensions and taking them literally in a way. Is that part of the fun for you?
Yeah, because, maybe I was inspired way before I had the project of making this movie, by his style of making new stuff from recycling other stuff, like making a new world with two existing worlds. And, I liked to do that with objects. So that was how I could translate it. But there is a funny thing about the cloud that maybe we should talk about, it's like, well the cloud was really made for real. It was metallic and it was carried by the crane, and it went one hundred feet above the ground. Actually I wanted to try to show them it was safe, but they told me I was not allowed for insurance. To take it. I was really scary, especially for Audrey who has vertigo. But I think...
I was like "Okay, it's okay, it's okay Michel, I think you've got your scene. It's okay. You want another one? No, I think I have to go down now. Please, please please."
I think, to me, as the director the fear of being in this crazy space and experience, the fear translated into a fear of a first date. When you meet a girl or boy the first time and you're really scared that it will go wrong. And you have so much hope it's going to lead you to happiness. Then you have this fear, and I think that it translated, not so that they would not be able to acting this fear, but, this fear, to me in my opinion, in my eyes, translated into something that was really connected to the story.
What is it like acting in a film like this? Because I wonder whether it's like being part of a huge machine, or do you have freedom to move or do you have freedom to kind of improvise or be yourself?
Should I answer? For this movie, I can't say for the other one, but for this movie, it's so surrealistic, it's so full of ideas, I think that Michel's brain was working like 24 hours to 24 hours, you know. So he was very, he had maybe you know 1000-1500 ideas per day. So we were in a big, how can I say like, storm ideas, but then you exactly precisely what he wanted to do. So we were in a way, completely lost, but in another way very sure that he knew exactly what he wanted to do. I think that would create something so unusual, no? You knew what you were doing?
Not exactly. What I know is, sometimes actors, when you're put in a sort of discomfort, it doesn't really go in the way of the emotion. It sort of managed to make it more real in a way. It's like, just to continue on this cloud stuff, it's like when you put actors into the, how do you say montagnes russes.
Ah, les montagnes russes?
Oh, a roller coaster.
Yeah, roller coaster. In movies you have the actor acting, and acting, and then they go into the roller coaster and they make those faces and you know they are not acting anymore, they are really feeling the moment of being scared. So, I think I tried to do this movie, every shot of this movie being like that, so the actor could not think of anything but being themself.
But that's the truth, because me before the shooting, I was like, thinking of my part, thinking "I'm going to do that," stress this word and stress this word, and do that and do that, and, you never know when the camera is shooting. You know, it's always shooting and you don't know if it's shooting on you or somebody else so you are like totally lost. So I said "Okay." I trust him. We'll see. But there was something very different from the other, you know regular, where when you start to shoot the scene, usually, traditionally, every time it's like "Okay, silence. Okay, sound. Rolling." With Michel it was totally opposite. "Okay, let's re-shoot."
"And the cut?"
"No, no, no." So, we were completely lost and it was...
I was lost too.
Was it hard to decide whether to present this film to people as a kind of mad, futuristic vision or as a love story? Because the poster, the French poster for example, is the couple underwater and it looks like an image from Jean Vigo or Chagall, or something. But, the first thing we see in the film is this kind of explosion of this mad world of imagery.
Well, I think despite this chaos that seems random and was may be random, I tried to find a way to focus the attention on the relationship. Of these two guys. That's why I chose them, because they had some, I knew they would emerge from this chaos. But, I really was hoping that the love story would come across above all the rest. So, I hope I didn't drown them too much in details and stuff. Actually, all the sort of explosion of details, it's really the beginning of the film, and as you go along, it becomes more and more about them.
Audrey and Romain, was it easy to find an angle on this couple, because you've worked together in the Cédric Klapisch trilogy, so did you kind of click into sort of familiar habits?
It was very different you know? Because Cédric Klapisch movies, it's realistic, you know, it's modern, it's now. I mean, your film is modern too.
No, don't worry.
But, there is some poetry, I don't know for you but in your eyes, I saw that you were looking at me differently than in Klapisch' movie. And the tone was difficult to find at the beginning for us, because in the book, yes, the characters are very innocent, very light, and very young.
Yeah, we don't know that much about them. He doesn't describe them with their character or anything, even physical you don't really know.
But, the language, the descriptions are very, very, very light, so we had to find the real tone to be sincere with that speaking.
Can we talk about the period of the film because it seems to belong to no time. I mean here it's in a science fiction festival, and it's futuristic but it starts off in a world that could be 1947 and then you've got the rebuilding of the of the Forum des Halles which has rebuilt recently so it's sort of now, but it's sort of 20 years ago as well. Does it matter to you when the film is set or did you want us to think it's never?
Yeah, I think it's sort of never. It's a parallel time that's started when the book was written. It's like the time went to a different branch. It's now but with another possibility of time. But I didn't want to cut the real Paris outside of the film because, it would mean that we would have to construct every single object. Then when they go out I wanted to feel the energy of Paris. So we combined elements from a little bit of different times. We reconstructed cars and cars from the past, and cars from now, and tried to create a world that was still, that could integrate the reality of the world now.
You've kind of made a sort of romantic trilogy now, I think with Eternal Sunshine, The Science of Sleep, and this film. I mean, those three films seem to go together very well.
Yeah, or maybe it's because it's what's going on in people's head. The feelings and stuff like that. It's sort of surrounded by other bits that are going in your head that are more difficult to identify but are still there.
And the other thing that struck me as a parallel with Eternal Sunshine, you seem to like people jumping up and down on beds.
Yeah, they do that here too? It's a good definition of acting I guess.
Born: 1963, Versailles
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
L' Épine dans le coeur
The ALL-SEEING EYE
More about Michel Gondry
Born: 9 August 1978, Beaumont, Auvergne
The Da Vinci Code
ENSEMBLE, C'EST TOUT
Les Poupées Russes
More about Audrey Tautou
Une nouvelle amie
More about Romain Duris
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