There’s a common perception that French cinema that makes its way to the Anglophone world is becoming a genre unto itself, which is something that Michel Gondry’s lighthearted and oh so…well, French, Microbe et Gasoil does nothing to debunk. Set in a small town in rural France over a summer, where childhood is filled with the rose-coloured-glasses ennui of storybooks, Daniel (Ange Dargent) and Theo (Theophile Baquet) are two misfits in school, nicknamed Microbe and Gasoil (Gasoline en anglais) after their short stature and fascination with being a mechanic, respectively. Lonely and misunderstood at home with abusive and distant parents, they build a car that resembles a cubby house (a sight gag that thankfully gets explored to its full potential) and set off on a road trip across France. Where they’re going they have no idea, because, as viewers know by now, it’s the journey that counts.
Gondry is the director of the blissfully hyperactive and wonderful films Be Kind, Rewind , Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind , and Mood Indigo. In his more intellectual works, the imagination doubles as both a prison and liberation, a slightly out-of-reach paradise that one becomes lost in. While Microbe possesses some of the necessary tragedy that’s found in French film, a tribute to its social realist tendencies even in its most fantastical moments, it’s ultimately a lighthearted escape. Imagination is a beautiful escape. It’s a place of boundless beauty, and the film has a wonderfully unspoilt quality as a result. Technology is an impediment and rarely makes an appearance, in fact, with one very funny scene seeing Microbe accidentally bury a mobile phone after peeing on it, it’s revealed how arbitrary the device truly is. Here, Gondry strives to make a beautiful diversion, an enjoyable slice of life reminiscent of simpler days. As the house/car trundles down country roads, the act of staying together a miracle, you can’t help but recall memories of your own life. What a nice feeling that is.