School’s a drag for 12-year-old Daniel, nicknamed Microbe in honour of his slight stature.
When new boy Theo (Gasoline) arrives in town on his tricked-up, petrol-powered pushbike, the two boys find they share enough in common to begin building a friendship. They’re not exactly “normal” teens, and although Daniel yearns to be cool enough for classmate Laura, the duo are totally under-estimated by their peers and families.
The summer holidays are approaching. With nothing more exciting on the horizon and with a strong desire to break free of their less-than-thrilling everyday lives, the new friends hatch a plan. After a series of expeditions to the local junkyard to scrounge parts, they’re ready to debut their creation: a mini campervan powered by a two-stroke lawnmower motor.
Choosing the campgrounds of the Massif Central as the destination for their maiden journey (Theo is keen to revisit the charms of two well-endowed camp cooks), the boys set off through the darkened streets of Versailles in search of freedom and adventure. They find plenty of both.
The conventional linear narrative and lowest of low-tech approach is refreshing and a surprising departure from what we’ve come to expect from director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; The Green Hornet). This film is a gentle antidote to the pressures of life in the modern world, with decidedly less whimsy than his previous works, although still with a satisfying emotional core.
No matter what goes wrong, the boys won’t give up on their dream. Instead, they rely on resilience and ingenuity to extricate themselves from a series of near-disasters as the little house trundles up and down the backroads of rural France.
The performances are uniformly superb. Ange Dargent (Microbe) and Théophile Baquet (Gasoline) give charming and unpretentious portrayals of teenagers on the cusp of making their own way in the world, and Audrey Tautou is in there, too, as Marie-Thérèse, Daniel’s loving, wonderfully earnest mother.
It’s a heart-warming, hilarious and unpredictable tale of the power of friendship and the importance of being the architect of your own future. Microbe & Gasoline conjures an unsophisticated world where kids make things happen and a little bit of persistence goes a long way.
Microbe & Gasoline is showing at the Palace Nova on April 1, 14, 17 and 22 as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival, which opens today and continues until April 24.