Music-video and film director Michel Gondry’s new movie, The Thorn in the Heart (out tomorrow), is an intimate documentary encounter with his eclectic family. For a director who specializes in the surreal and fantastical, creating a nostalgia-driven doc seems a departure, but for Gondry, who’s also directing this December’s megahyped big-budget action flick The Green Hornet, it was just another form of experimentation. Vulture spoke with Gondry about his new films, working with Seth Rogen, and why he doesn’t consider himself to be a provocateur.
The Thorn in the Heart focuses on your aunt Suzette, a teacher. Do you think childhood nostalgia influences your work in general?
I’m a very nostalgic person for several reasons. For one, there’s a sense of discovery that you have when you’re a child — where you observe things with more precision because your brain’s less crowded. I always wanted to feel this thing of “discovering” that I felt when I was younger, so I go back to these places and try to apply it to my life now. I was thinking of why I use animation in the film, and I think it’s very important because it’s how I saw the world when I was a kid.
Can you give us an example of “discovering”?
I’m reading Descartes now, even though I don’t know anything about philosophy, and he said if you’re not going to question the most simple phenomena of nature, then you’re going to learn nothing. I remember when my son was young, we were walking up a hill and he said, “Dad, why does the car look so small now? When we were right next to the car it looked bigger.” If you listen to your kid and answer the questions he asks, you’re going to learn so much.
Does nostalgia ever get in the way of innovation?
Sometimes it’s a little depressive. [Frequent Gondy collaborator] Björk always looked to the future, and she helped — not to forget the past, but to be attracted to the future. A lot of music tries to mimic the past, but I like music that tries to invent the future.
You had free reign with The Thorn in the Heart, but it’s surprisingly restrained.
I don’t like provocation — it’s something gratuitous that’s created to attract attention. I don’t even mind if people think I’m conservative. I’d say I’m innovative, but provocation is not innovation.
Why do a big-budget superhero movie like Green Hornet?
I’ve been offered many big projects that I didn’t like, and this one I really like because I like Seth Rogen — the film’s going to be a combination of his universe and my universe. Even though I’m going into different directions, I try to have a consistent philosophy. My work can adapt; it can be like an evolution. But it doesn’t always feel like that: Sometimes it feels a little chaotic