Spike Jonze’s Stop Motion Film Hauntingly Animates Paris’ Famed Shakespeare and Company Bookstore

Since his break­out ear­ly days direct­ing com­mer­cials and music videos for the likes of Fat­boy Slim, Weez­er, Daft Punk, and the Breed­ers, Spike Jonze has honed a quirky visu­al sen­si­bil­i­ty that trans­lat­ed almost seam­less­ly to fea­ture film. But even at his quirki­est, Jonze hasn’t been about quirk for quirk’s sake. His characters—highly emo­tion­al robots, dog-head­ed men with bro­ken legs, tor­ment­ed pup­peteers, enthu­si­as­tic ama­teur dance troops—are under­dogs, weirdos, fig­ures on the fringes who make us ques­tion what it means to be peo­ple: to be lone­ly, in love, cre­ative­ly obsessed, and emo­tion­al­ly scram­bled.…

There is a para­dox inher­ent in Jonze’s films and videos. Their odd­ball plots and char­ac­ters cut through the cyn­i­cal veneer of cool that keeps us from ask­ing hard ques­tions about our emo­tion­al lives, but they do so in styl­is­tic exer­cis­es that in some cas­es them­selves become emblems of pop-cul­ture cool. Not so the short film “Mourir auprès de toi” (“To Die by Your Side”), which takes its title from one of the most aching­ly heart­break­ing of Smiths’ songs. This is a love sto­ry for the book­ish and the crafty, set in Paris’ famed Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny book­store and fea­tur­ing ani­mat­ed book cov­ers made from embroi­dered felt cutouts.

Co-writ­ten and with a look inspired by design­er Olympia Le-Tan, the short is “an absolute­ly beau­ti­ful stop-motion ani­ma­tion for book-lovers that’s part This Is Where We Live, part Going West, part cre­ative mag­ic only Spike Jonze can bring.” So writes Maria Popo­va at The Atlantic, sum­ma­riz­ing the ups and downs of the plot and allud­ing to a “hap­pi­ly-ever-after end­ing” that “comes only after an appro­pri­ate­ly dark and grim twist.”

Watch “To Die by Your Side” at the top of the post, then, just above, see a short behind-the-scenes teas­er video. “You just start with what the feel­ing is,” Jonze told Now­ness in an inter­view, “Me and Olympia both want­ed to make a love sto­ry.… It evolved nat­u­ral­ly and it all just start­ed with the feel­ing. From there you enter­tain your­self with ideas that excite you.” The quote explains why Jonze’s films and videos—for all their visu­al inven­tive­ness and imag­i­na­tive whimsy—nearly always stay ground­ed in can­did emo­tion­al real­ism. How­ev­er far and wide Jonze’ cin­e­mat­ic and nar­ra­tive  imag­i­na­tion takes us, his films always start with the feel­ing.

“Mourir auprès de toi” (“To Die by Your Side”) first appeared on our site in Octo­ber, 2011.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Spike Jonze and Beast­ie Boys, Togeth­er Again

Spike Jonze’s Imag­i­na­tive TV Ads

Col­lab­o­ra­tions: Spike Jonze, Yo-Yo Ma, and Lil Buck

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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