Taking another break from Hollywood filmmaking, director Michel Gondry follows Mood Indigo with Microbe Et Gasoil (Microbe & Gasoline), a coming-of-age story about two young boys building a makeshift car of sorts and travelling around France.
Newcomers Ange Dargent and Théophile Baquet play the titular leads and the playful friendship their characters form is both real and touching. You're never quite sure where the film is going and, while it could have easily developed into a love story, it instead reveals itself to simply be a film about rebellion and growing-up. Gondry takes a step back this time and doesn't add in his own brand of surreal storytelling and practical effects. The only unusual part of the film being the house/car the teenagers drive throughout. Microbe Et Gasoil taps into a specific feeling most of us can probably relate to, that is the reluctance to be different, to grow-up and the dream of one day just setting off on an adventure with no plans of coming back.
The script tries a little too hard at times to give the actors something whimsical to say, which can be distracting early on but as the story gets truly underway, it focuses more on developing its characters and giving them interesting things to do. In their travels, the kids encounter bullies, a well-meaning yet strange dentist, they enter a drawing contest, get into an argument and finally make their way back home. Unfortunately, as soon as they return, reality catches up with them in a big way and the film leads us to a bittersweet conclusion. This makes it all worth it as Gondry once again pinpoints the heart of a story only to break it thereby giving it the weight it deserves.
If you're expecting a Michel Gondry film with all the bells and whistles then you might have to wait for his next one: Microbe Et Gasoil is a very French little film with two teenagers as the leads (Audrey Tautou has a small role) so it demands some patience.
That said, it's a heartfelt tale told really well and, ultimately, it's sweet and sad enough to make it worth a watch.