Director Michel Gondry’s spongy, paint flecked aesthetic aches with whimsy and pain. He’s one of the few auteurs that creates movies that feel of Slurpee syrup and model glue. Gondry rearranges, repurposes, and reinterprets life’s esoteric emotions with the curiosity of a child and the craftsmanship of a carpenter. A few of his contemporaries – Spike Jonze and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, in particular – have similar compasses, but nobody rattles the paint cans quite like Gondry does. Most American audiences may know him from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, a movie whose heart lies in its kaleidoscopic take on memory, malaise, and malevolence. Some indie film lovers may reference his work on “The Science of Sleep” or “Mood Indigo” (both great films, the latter of which is a spellbinding take on love and mortality; magic and acceptance). But here, with “Microbe and Gasoline”, Gondry creates one of the most nuanced, loving, and seamlessly perceptive films in the veteran director’s storied oeuvre.
“Microbe and Gasoline” is a coming of age tale that circumvents the pedestrian and all too standard trappings of typical friendship stories. In Gondry’s world, two young friends escape the droll, claustrophobic landscape of their family’s homes and embark on a mercurial road trip full of odd characters, rickety roads, and bad haircuts. Daniel (Ange Dargent) and Théo (Théophile Baquet) are the two unlikely heroes of the film. Daniel being shy, reserved, and inherently more sensible. Théo, meanwhile, is a bushel of fireworks attached to a bowling ball. It’s a formula we’ve seen before, surely, but not with this sort of expressive and unencumbered execution. Gondry understands the confusion, romanticism, and resilience of being young. That understanding, paired with an expert awareness of color and design, makes “Microbe and Gasoline” a sort of pure joy.
When the two pals join forces to create a makeshift house on wheels, they collect grease spattered motors, worn down planks of wood, and potted plants for effect. Gondry’s wonky physics make this vision both comforting and beautiful. Imagine a pillow fort on wheels. The imperfect duo, nicknamed Microbe and Gasoline, find themselves exploring abstract terrain during their journey. Topics of family, friendship, and sexuality are handled with a fantastical and yet grounded approach. Théophile Baquet is so charismatic and in control of this material that he deserves to be nominated for an acting award, somewhere. This is a young actor with poise, humor, and acting ability. Book it.
“Microbe and Gasoline” – opening Friday at Ken Cinema – is Gondry’s most sublime work. A visionary, comforting, familial and yet odd journey of friendship and emotion. It’s unapologetically funny, strange, and beautiful. And, in a lackluster year in film to this point, a movie that should not be missed in theaters.