Michel Gondry: A Cinephile's Labyrinth

The Acclaimed Director Gives Us an Insider's Glimpse of His Favorite Video Store

Michel Gondry takes us on a tour of his local Parisian haunt in A Cinephile’s Labyrinth, a new work directed by Larry Clark alumna, actress and filmmaker Tiffany Limos. The Academy Award-winning director reminisces on time spent wandering the aisles of La Butte Video Club, the small VHS and DVD store to which he has made pilgrimages over the years. “I watched all the early Wim Wenders films from La Butte when I was preparing for The Science of Sleep,” says Gondry of this old school answer to Netflix. In his forthcoming L’Écume des Jours (Mood Indigo), the French auteur adapts Boris Vian’s 1947 cult novel of the same name—a satirical story of young love set in jazz-infused Paris. “I tried to avoid ‘Rive Gauche’ clichés,” he says of the upcoming feature, “but I used the music of Duke Ellington.” Similarly, La Butte is a relic of Paris’ past and one that continues to inspire—not just during the making of 2008’s homage to video, Be Kind Rewind, but in providing the director with regular interaction with other film lovers. “Out of all the directors I work with, Michel is the most fun,” muses Limos. “He makes me laugh out loud constantly.” Here Gondry reveals just how important his encounters in the video aisle have been to his acclaimed oeuvre. 

Was the video store a big part of your early experience with film?
Michel Gondry: We had a video player at home since the early 80s so the video process was part of my adolescence. I used to shoot little sketches with my brothers and our friends. Sadly, I don’t think there are many places like La Butte left where I live in Brooklyn.

Do you ever think about whether your film will end up on the shelves of somewhere like La Butte when you are making it?
MG: Yes. In fact it’s one of the reasons why we as filmmakers have to define the genre that we want our film to belong to. We know that people will put them on specific shelves. It doesn’t make things easy when your genre is not well defined. 

Have these films also influenced your collaborations with other artists, such as the musicians for whom you’ve made music videos?  
MG: Yes, sure. I remember the first time I collaborated with Björk—we discussed all our favorite movies. We discovered that we had lots of favorite films in common. Like The Night of the Hunter (1955) for instance, which became an inspiration for the video for [her 1993 single] “Human Behaviour.”

Do you still watch films as much as you used to before you began making them?
MG: I don’t see them the same way. Unfortunately, I can’t take myself out of the equation. Most of the time I’m watching a movie, I’m thinking, “I could never achieve this!”

Your latest adaptation takes on a work of satire. Is it important to have a sense of humor in filmmaking today?
MG: Humor helps to swallow the harshness of life.

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