Left to right: Raymond Delgado, Brandon Diaz, Jillian Rice, Laidychen Carrasco, Jonathan Ortiz, Alex Barrios and Michael Brodie (front) today atop the Grand Hotel in Cannes, France. Photo by Eugene Hernandez.

Listen to our podcast interview with Michel Gondry on his new film, Cannes Directors’ Fortnight opener The We and the I:

An unlikely collaboration has yielded a rather unconventional new movie here in Cannes.

The We and the I, the latest film from Michel Gondry, stars a group of about three dozen young, untrained actors. Rough around the edges but filled with humor and heart, the film follows the kids on a long MTA bus ride in the Bronx on the last day of school.

Gondry, a French filmmaker who mainly lives in New York, used to ride the bus a lot in Paris, he explained today as the film opened the Directors’ Fortnight section here in Cannes. On public transportation he’d notice that large groups of rowdy kids would act differently once they were in the same setting with just a couple of friends. He was inspired to craft a story that followed a bunch of young people from the loud and obnoxious beginning of their ride until they were whittled down to just a few, ending on personal and emotional notes.

Bullies pick on kids and other passengers, straight and gay love triangles are revealed, characters’ troubled backstories are explored, and along the way there is laughter and tears.

Michel Gondry in Cannes today. Photo by Eugene Hernandez.

“I like to observe how people are different in one setting from another,” Gondry reiterated during this morning’s Cannes Q &A session with seven of the kids he worked with. The students, most a part of a Bronx arts program called The Point, began workshopping with Gondry a few years ago and shot the movie last summer.

Excited to be in Cannes for a couple of days, most of the kids had never even been on an airplane before, let alone traveled to a foreign country. “I never thought I’d need a passport in my life,” one of the emerging actors told me today as we sat on the roof of the Grand Hotel in Cannes overlooking the bright blue Mediterranean.

The group’s enthusiasm for creative expression and excitement at being a part of this movie was infectious.

Talking with me today, the kids raved about the authenticity of the stories depicted in the film. “This has to be the realest movie I’ve ever seen,” one of the seven young actors who traveled to France told me. They all said that when Michel Gondry first reached out to them they thought it was a hoax, that they were being Punk’d.

Praising the chance to work so closely with a professional storyteller, the young performers said that the experience has set them on a path to do more in the arts. Michael Brodie, the suave tough guy who shows his heart by the end of the movie said the opportunity was invaluable.

“It made me stronger,” Brodie said at today’s Q&A in Cannes. “It made me improve as an actor and it made me want to do more.”

Michel Gondry also took something from the experience. He said that he achieved a level of independence he’s never found in his filmmaking.

“I think its the first film I’ve finished and I didn’t need outside opinions,” Gondry explained during today’s podcast interview from Cannes. He said he has never felt so liberated by a film he’s made.  He said he also feels a tremendous sense of pride in the movie, a feeling he says is unlike any he’s experienced with his other films.

“I felt strongly about it without people telling me it’s good or its bad. It’s something I have been very affected by.”

Watch a short video of the of the young stars of The We and the I at the Cannes Film Festival below:

Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (@filmlinc) and a founder of indieWIRE. Follow him on Twitter at @eug.

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