This is one of the more bizarre French films, but I’ve always held French cinema in high regards, especially after watching The Intouchables. Microbe et Gasoil is a wonderous piece of filmmaking from Michel Gondry, the man responsible for the story behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s an excellent coming-of-age tale from the mind of Gondry, but with potentially the most bizarre plot.
Daniel, or as he is known at as school Microbe, is a talented sketcher who becomes best friends with the new kid, Théo, who’s nickname becomes Gasoline, due to him smelling of the stuff. Daniel and Théo begin to spend a tonne of time together, before deciding to adventure around France in a car they build with a lawnmower engine. (Yes, you did read that correctly.)
Their plan for this nonsensical trip is thwarted before it begins due to the ‘car’ being impossible to register. Daniel saves the day with the idea of building a house on top of the wheels. (yes, you read that correctly, too!) But the genius house idea serves as a way to hide from the police, seen a few times throughout the film, in those excellent light hearted scenes.
However, instead of this rather intriguing and hilarious idea rolling away with the story, Gondry created some rather peculiar kids to control and contain the story. Daniel & Théo embrace their peculiarity and understand they are not like the regular kids, probably shown as only Théo is only the one to show up at Daniel’s art show and Daniel being the only one to laugh at Théo’s jokes.
The chemistry between the leads is brilliant, as it feels as though a genuine friendship in being born on screen, between Ange Dargent (Daniel) and Théophile Baquet (Théo). Because the leads being so strong in this regard, the rest of the cast (aside from Audrey Tautou’s Marie) is nonchalant. Marie has an intriguing backstory, that is never quite explored, but I think that would’ve taken away from the story centralised by Daniel and Théo.
As the two friends tour from Versailles, to Auxerre and onwards to Morvan. (a trip consisting of at least 190 miles) The film embraces weird situations, including a feud about Daniel’s hair, so much so he ventures to a Korean brothel and has the hair cut right down the middle, before running away.
The story isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it’s strength is in the chemistry as I mentioned. That being said, Gondry enlisted a few moves to keep it fresh, with Daniel intentionally leading them to Morvan to chase his crush. Unsurprisingly, Théo disagrees with this motive and this causes disruption between the two and due to their parking situation, their shed on wheels is mistaken for a Romanian camp and ends up smouldering. Although this isn’t the most inventive story, it doesn’t take anything from the enjoyment factor that can be taken out of the film.
Suddenly the film takes a serious swing as the parents are shown worrying and the boys show continued disregard to their families and rejoice in each other’s company. This seriousness changes the tone of the film and although doesn’t leave a bitter taste in the mouth, it changes the mood and lasting thoughts on the film.
That being said, the memorable scene of the wrecked car/shed hybrid emerging from a plume of smoke to save Daniel in the nick of time is fantastic and wouldn’t fail to bring a smile to anyone’s face as Théo grins heartily coming over the horizon.
Gondry has created a rather bizarre, but very entertaining coming-of-age story. Now it isn’t exactly the most perfect film, but it’s rather enjoyable and paced fantastically over the 110 or so minutes. I thought it was an excellent for the story not to be invested in the car/shed thing, but rather the friendship that blossoms throughout the movie and the life-affirming and carefree attitude it evokes. Although it came out last year, I think if you choose to watch a French film this year, Microbe et Gasoil would be a fantastic choice.