Michel Gondry  

The filmmaker at the center of Michel Gondry’s new feature is in a love-hate relationship with his latest project. To protect the work in progress from the studio executives who have just fired him, he absconds to the country with the four-hour cut, his faithful editor and assistant in tow. And then he can’t bear to look at the footage, and gets busy with one tangential undertaking after another. The depiction of procrastination as an essential part of the creative process is one of the delights of The Book of Solutions (Le Livre des solutions), but on the way to its mildly satisfying final punchline, this uneven comedy loses its thread.

Drawing loosely upon Gondry’s postproduction escape from producers when he was making Mood Indigo, his first movie since the 2015 charmer Microbe & Gasoline is a portrait of the director as a gifted man-child. Central character Marc Becker is inspired, scared, petulant and egotistical, and Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent) inhabits the role with an improbable cross between the loose-limbed and the tightly wound. In his certainty and capriciousness, Marc is alternately captivating and maddening. He’s a blessed fool who gets by with more than a little help from his friends, and they happen to be loyal, hardworking women who, with forbearance and exasperation, believe in him and the movie he says he’s trying to save.

The Book of Solutions

The Bottom Line

Not without its smart and quirky pleasures, but the whimsy wears thin.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)
Cast: Pierre Niney, Blanche Gardin, Françoise Lebrun, Frankie Wallach, Camille Rutherford, Vincent Elbaz, Sting
Director-screenwriter: Michel Gondry

1 hour 43 minutes

With editor Charlotte (Blanche Gardin), assistant Sylvia (Frankie Wallach) and the promise of help from studio “video girl” Gabrielle (Camille Rutherford), Marc flees Paris and heads to the country home of his aunt Denise (Françoise Lebrun, the film’s wise and loving heart) in the Cévennes. This mountainous region of Occitania, in south-central France, is dear to Gondry, who, with fine, seamless contributions from designers Pierre Pell and Florence Fontaine, DP Laurent Brunet and editor Élise Fievet, conjures an unfussy sense of rural serenity and community spirit. As the base of operations for the onscreen filmmakers, they make evocative use of the home of Gondry’s aunt Suzette, to whom the film is dedicated.

Before it grows repetitive and disjointed in the second half, much about the film is wise and deliciously funny. The way Marc has turned Denise’s monthlong interlude, when she taught inmates decades earlier, into life-defining lore, is a lovely example of his propensity for exaggeration. Usually he’s exaggerating the urgency and power of his ideas, which grip him like a fever and require the immediate attention of everyone around him.

Denise’s house is one of those modest yet rambling stone structures with more enough bedrooms for everyone. But that doesn’t assure Marc’s colleagues privacy; he’s given to barging into a sleeping Sylvia’s room in the middle of the night with his latest to-do item for the movie, and after a few grumbles she accepts the challenge of finding, say, a recording studio or an orchestra in the sticks, or enlisting the participation of Sting. Having endured a few of Marc’s wee-hours bouts of inspiration herself, Charlotte wisely draws a line and moves into a hotel.

The Book of Solutions goes wobbly in the matter of Marc’s mental health. Not long after he arrives at Denise’s, he goes off his meds cold turkey, something she warns him against doing. (It’s a relief when she at least prevents most of his pills from entering the water supply via the toilet.) Whether he’s been taking a run-of-the-mill 21st century cocktail of mood stabilizers or being treated for something more serious is never made clear, but there’s a strong quality of senses reawakening in Niney’s manic performance. Marc is newly attuned to possibilities, including that of a serious fixer-upper near Denise’s home that he impulsively buys, envisioning a moviemaking hub where she sees only “a pile of rubble.”

He’s also a tyrant of sorts — or at least somebody who doesn’t feel the need to be diplomatic: his irritation with Charlotte’s assistant, the constantly coughing Carlos (Mourad Boudaoud), is a comical case in point. In his vanity, Marc tends to catastrophize, and the tantrums he unleashes grow tiresome for the audience as well as for his accomplices. A poster for a fictional film, glimpsed during the studio sequence that opens the movie, might be a wink at his uncompromising self-certainty: Celle Qui Savait (The One Who Knew).

As to why Charlotte and Sylvia stick with Marc, Gondry offers the character’s hard-to-dismiss and occasionally self-congratulatory flow of creativity. There’s Marc’s brainstorm about turning the film into a palindrome — something Gondry’s film does not do, although it does follow its protagonist’s idea of inserting an animated sequence at the midpoint. There’s the playful ingenuity in his transformation (with help from Carlos) of an old truck into an editing bay — a peace offering to Charlotte after one of his childish outbursts. And there’s the long-shelved idea that gives the film its title, and which Marc has brought back to life: a how-to book offering ways of shaking off doubt and making things happen — stripped-down and zen in its wisdom, its advice encompassing both “Don’t listen to others” and “Listen to others.”

Marc is struggling with his own doubts. That’s evident in his refusal to even watch Anyone, Everyone, the movie-within-the-movie whose few glimpses we see show the actor Jacques Mazeran fleeing trouble on a city street. Marc’s misgivings about himself and his movie are further revealed in voiceover ponderings that range from the jokey to the self-aware to the unnecessary. Many of these asides undermine his surface certainty, some express off-the-charts bravado, and, at their strongest, they do both at once. “Some victories,” he assures us at a moment of triumph, “are so spectacular they don’t need a voiceover.”

When it clicks, the humor in The Book of Solutions is as perfectly underplayed as Étienne Charry’s enchanting score. Eternal Sunshine helmer Gondry is more concerned with character than sheer eccentricity. Still, the proceedings can feel strained in their whimsicality and movie-conscious gambits, especially in the later going. A bizarre burst of action-thriller hoo-ha involves one of the execs who has rejected Marc’s arty Anyone, Everyone, Max (Vincent Elbaz), the director’s onetime producing partner and now an irredeemable turncoat in his eyes — and, therefore, an object of obsession. Not unlike Marc’s stalling tactics, Gondry’s grow more roundabout — unnecessarily so, when the workaday core of his story, the combination of needy creator and rock-steady collaborators, shines so true.

Source link


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





Anthony Chen’s Lovely Gen Z Drama  

Osage Tribal Leader Says Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio Have “Restored Trust” with ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’