Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2015 2:59 pm 
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French teen boy road trip à la Gondry

Burned by the disaster of his over-produced Boris Vian adaptation Mood Indigo/L'Écume des jours (R-V 2014), or just wanting a change of pace, the DIY-gadget-mad French filmmaker Michel Gondry turns in his new film, Microbe et Gasoil, to a simple and intimate tale of two outcast, creative lyçée boys in Versailles who go on a highly original summer road trip. They're Danièl (Ange Dargent), whose over-loving eco-nut mom (Audrey Tautou) is a bit depressive, and Théo (Théophile Baquet), with a mean, unlikeable junk/antique dealer dad and an overweight mom whose health is precarious. Danièl is called "Microbe" because he's slight, and his long blond hair gets him mistaken for a girl. Théo is called "Gasoil" because his tinkering leads him to have a smell of gasoline about him. Danièl is an excellent artist who's so good he gets a gallery show (nobody comes, though, except Théo). He has painted many impressions of his brother, who sleeps in the same room and is a would-be punk musician. Théo has an older brother who's in the military.

You can see where things are going when Danièl sees his bike, equipped with a variety of sound effect gadgets. Théo finds an outboard motor and supervises their building of a strange auto run by it. They can't get a license for it, so they build a wood shack on top of it so it can pass as a cabin by the road if authorities come by. They don't tell their parents where they're going, of course.

This setup allows Gondry to lightheartedly indulge his penchant for handmade gadgetry (Les Inrocks calls the film "bricoludique"). But if for a while their makeshift vehicle is at the center of the boy's lives, the main focus is their rapid-fire, slangy conversation and the "ado" things they talk about -- girls, masturbation, courage, and philosophical issues Théo's isolation has caused him to ponder. There is something wackily analytical and French about these sometimes searching and witty chats. There is the girl called Laura (Diane Besnier) who Danièl falls for, who seems unattainable, but in the end turns out to be pining for him.

Along the way they have several adventures. They're kidnapped by a lonely couple "abandoned" by their own kids. Danièl has a tricky encounter with an oriental massage parlor where he tries to get his girly hair cut off. The boys' vehicle is seriously damaged when it's mistaken for part of a gypsy encampment that's raided in the Morvan. They lose all of it when Théo "speed tunes" the engine and it can't be stopped. When they're back in Versailles they're separated: Théo's mom has died and his dad sends him off to boarding school in Vincennes, where his older brother lives.

All this is merely a rough structure to make possible the dialogue between the two boys. The chemistry between the two young actors is palpable. This return to simplicity for Gondry is akin to his earlier straightforward films, the family portrait The Thorn in the Heart and his Bronx bus ride -- another example of his ability to tune in to young people, The We and the I. It may be true that this very French, very low-keyed road trip coming-of-ager will be a hard sell in the Anglophone world, as Peter Debruge says in his sympathetic Variety review. But it deserves a special place in the genre for its charm and specificity. This is a movie full of little offhand details so it would reveal another layer on further viewings.

Microbe and Gasoline/Microbe et Gasoil, 103 mins., "Quietly released in France after being slighted by the festival circuit" (Debruge) 8 July 2015, it received raves from French critics (AlloCiné press rating 4.0). Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival, where the film's US premiere was set for 4 October 2015. US theatrical release begins 1 July 2016. (Northern Califoronia 15 July.)

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