Michel Gondry returns with this offbeat comedy about a neurotic filmmaker
Dir/scr: Michel Gondry. France. 2023. 103mins
Eight years after his sweet but modest 2015 feature, Microbe and Gasoline, Michel Gondry is back with an offbeat comedy about a neurotic, depressed director who can’t get a film made. The Book Of Solutions is a welcome return this cinematic maverick, who has been missing in action for far too long, and perhaps contains a few clues about what Gondry has been for the last eight years – if, that is, we take the director played here with delicious comic verve by Pierre Niney as his alter ego. Has he spent his days thinking up aphorisms like “a man is not a man until he has built a chair” while, er, building a chair? Did he make, or at least plan to make, an animated short film about a fox who opens a hair salon? Has he picked up a leaf in the woods with a small hole and been charmed by how the world looks when viewed through it?
An ode to time-wasting distractions and shelved projects
The Book of Solutions is an ode to time-wasting distractions and shelved projects, one that suggests that perhaps it’s here, rather than in the boring finished stuff, that you can find an artist’s soul. It’s also a tender, melancholic film about a fragile man, one who suffers from depression and finds himself stuck in a loop, continually apologising to those he loves without being able to control the outbursts that he is apologising for. Despite a few mid-term lulls, it has the potential to attract interest outside France: something Gondry hasn’t really achieved in quite some time.
It all begins with a sugar-rush of wacky hilarity as Niney’s character Marc and his assistants scramble to remove the unedited files of his latest film from his producer’s offices. He’s made the mistake of showing the money guys the rushes and they are horrified, calling the film “grey and ugly” (based on the little we see, they’re dead right – it looks like a foggy adaptation of Waiting for Godot). The small team, led in theory by Marc but mostly kept together by his long-suffering editor Charlotte (Blanche Gardin), decamps to the house of the director’s aunt Denise (Francoise Lebrun) in the wooded Cevennes region of central France. It’s here that Marc hopes to finish the film – barring side projects, like, say, becoming mayor of the local village, whose denizens love him because he once did a video with George Clooney.
In 2009, Gondry made a documentary called The Thorn In The Heart about his aunt Suzette who, like Denise, lives in the Cevennes and was once a schoolteacher. The film was as much about Suzette’s son Jean-Yves, a wannabe filmmaker with mental health issues who never came to much, unlike his cousin. It feels like Gondry was searching for something in that unresolved earlier film which he has finally distilled in The Book Of Solutions, which is dedicated to Suzanne. Jean-Yves was exactly the kind of guy who might have transformed an old van into an editing suite, as Marc does here – partly in order to apologise yet again to Charlotte, partly in order to avoid actually editing his film, which he physically can’t bear to watch.
Though it had its moments of emotional truth, The Thorn In The Heart was mostly for Gondry completists. The Book of Solutions, on the other hand, is for anyone who has always meant to start a masterpiece, but found life always gets in the way.
Production company: Partizan
International sales: Kinology, email@example.com
Producer: Georges Bermann
Cinematography: Laurent Brunet
Production design: Pierre Pell
Editing: Elise Fievet
Music: Etienne Charry
Main cast: Pierre Niney, Blanche Gardin, Francoise Lebrun, Vincent Elbaz, Camille Rutherford, Frankie Wallach, Mourad Boudaoud, Sting