On July 14, the French celebrate Bastille Day, their version of America’s Fourth of July. With fireworks lighting up the Eiffel tower and parades paying glory to the founding of the French Republic, Bastille Day remembers the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. On that day, citizens of Paris invaded the infamous fortress and prison, fearful that the weapons stored there might be used against them. While the attack only freed seven prisoners, its symbolism was overwhelming. Its blow against tyranny signaled the end of monarchy and the beginning of the French revolution. This year, we celebrate the revolution that a few French filmmakers have made to some of our favorite films.
Michel Gondry | Director, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, French director Michel Gondry showcases his unique cinematic genius. Mixing low-tech effects with high concept storytelling, Gondry transforms the tale of two lovers (Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet) wanting to erase each other from the other’s life into a moving exploration of love and memory. Born in the Paris suburb of Versailles, Gondry grew up in an imaginative household—his mother was a pianist and his father programmed computers. As a shy child, Gondry turned his aversion to bullying into an aesthetic style. “I don't mock things,” Gondry explains. “I have to be nice.” Gondry was also compulsively creative. His constant experimentation, moving from making “little 3-D effects to animation, then to doing videos…felt like what I was doing as a kid,” Gondry recalls. In the 80s, art, music, and filmmaking all came together for him when he started making music videos for the Band Oui Oui in which he was the drummer. Recently, The New York Times listed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as one of the 25 best films of the 21st century, noting, “The only thing better than seeing it again would be wiping it from your memory and rediscovering it for the first time.”
Alexandre Desplat | Composer, Moonrise Kingdom, Suffragette, The Danish Girl, and Lust, Caution
Academy Award®-winning French composer Alexandre Desplat has created some of cinema’s most unforgettable scores, including those for Moonrise Kingdom, Suffragette, The Danish Girl, and Lust, Caution. Growing up in Paris, Desplat immersed himself in the city’s international music scene, mastering the piano, trumpet, and flute at an early age. He also fell in love with American movies, citing the “the songs from 101 Dalmatians and The Jungle Book” as his first big influences. By 15, he knew he wanted to create film scores, a job for which proved uniquely suited. Fellow composer Pascal Dusapin describes how “he’s different from the archetype of most film composers, because he really sees—it's as though he were writing scores with his eyes." For Moonrise Kingdom, a movie filled with music from Benjamin Britten to Hank Williams, Desplat never loses sight of the story. He recounts how he wanted the audience to remember being 11 or 12 in the summer with “the expectation that there will be adventure and fun and that you’ll meet new friends and maybe make a new love.”
Mélanie Laurent | Actress, Beginners
Although French actress Mélanie Laurent broke out for American audiences in Inglourious Basterds, writer/director Mike Mills had not seen her in that film when he was casting Beginners. After someone had written her name on a piece of paper, he looked her up on YouTube. “I don’t speak French,” Mills recounted. “but I thought, ‘Wow, she’s so strong.’ I really needed a strong woman.” Having started acting in Paris as a teenager, Laurent had already honed her skills as both a dramatic and comic actress before crossing over to English language films. As Anna, the young French actress who wins over Oliver (Ewan McGregor), Laurent proved perfect for the role. The New York Times singled her out as “charming” and New York Magazine called her “a treasure.” More importantly her unique chemistry with McGregor on screen proved the beating heart of the story. For USA Today, “Laurent and McGregor are the year's most appealing screen couple, their scenes together so realistic they seem improvised.”