Remembrance of Things Past
Fans of the work of filmmaker Michel Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (for which he won an Oscar in 2005 for Best Original Screenplay), Be Kind Rewind, music videos for Björk, and the forthcoming The Green Hornet, will find his newest film, The Thorn in the Heart, to be a surprising departure.
In its original conceit The Thorn in the Heart was meant to be a nostalgic look back at the career of Michel’s aunt, the elderly Suzette Gondry, an inventive and progressive teacher with a 30-year tenure in the classroom as she revisits her former schoolrooms and pupils in villages and towns of rural France. But during the course of the filmmaking, Suzette’s troubled relationship with her adult gay son, Jean-Yves, begins to dominate the film, and Gondry retrains his lens to tell that tale of the stern, stubborn mother and her fragile, depressed son whom Gondry, in his youth, knew as an older cousin. The model trains into which the solitary Jean-Yves once retreated — and to which Gondry refers in our interview — have been reassembled and stitch together the film’s retreats into memory.
The time allotted for my interview was short, though not unusually so. And unfortunately, my final question to Gondry was not captured on video. As he was preparing to move to his next interview, I asked why his films don’t include gay characters — to date none has. Gondry, who is straight, didn’t have a particularly specific answer, and he was rushed out of the room to his next appointment.
But in a rather unprecedented moment for busy interview-filled days like this, he returned as we were breaking down the camera equipment, and told me (I’m paraphrasing) that he’d been stopped by my question and had thought about it some more. His characters, he said, emerge from his own life experiences, and he’d had no significant experience with gay people previously. After filming The Thorn in the Heart, Gondry said he could contemplate creating gay characters now, with a “maturity” he’d previously lacked.