To call Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo visually inventive is not even scratching the surface, something like characterizing Apple as a company that’s had a certain amount of success.
Wacky, surreal, insanely playful, Mood Indigo is a film that believes that too much is not enough. Even for a wild and crazy director like Gondry, whose films run the gamut from the exceptional ( Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) through the unwatchable ( Human Nature), this is something out of the ordinary.
Adapted from Boris Vian’s 1947 cult novel L’Ecume des Jours (Froth on the Daydream) a cultural touchstone in France, Mood Indigo is definitely an odd film, both giddy and melancholy, engaging and disturbing.
If it doesn’t have as much emotional resonance as Spotless Mind, its visuals are off the charts. And its brisk 94-minute running time (more than 35 minutes shorter than the French release) means that though the relentlessness of the on-screen antics threatens to wear you out, the film is over before that can quite happen.
Set in a completely made-up world that Gondry and production designer Stephane Rozenbaum created from bits and pieces of Paris past, a world that includes eels coming out of faucets and plants sprouting instantly, Mood Indigo presents the kind of concoctions that Disney cartoon inventor Gyro Gearloose would love.
Chief among these is the “pianocktail,” a machine that mixes drinks in a manner dictated by what is played on a piano keyboard. This bizarre contraption, which took the production team months to build, is the proud invention of protagonist Colin (Romain Duris).
An independently wealthy young man whose apartment includes a doorbell that metamorphoses into a crawling beetle when rung, Colin has two best friends, his chef and major-domo Nicholas ( The Untouchables’ Omar Sy) and Chick (Gad Elmaleh).
But when Chick announces that he has met the girl of his dreams in Alise (Aissa Maiga), Colin starts to feel left out. “Solitude is unbearable,” he pouts. “I demand to fall in love, too.”
No sooner said than done. Colin goes to a party where he meets Chloe (Audrey Tautou), who just happens to share a name with one of his favorite pieces of Duke Ellington music.
Both are self-conscious, but after Chloe says “let’s bumble together,” romance takes its course. Seeing the happy couple travel over Paris in a cloud shaped like a swan (or a swan shaped like a cloud) is to experience the romantic Gondry at his dreamiest.
But one of the things that gives Mood Indigo and the novel it’s based on a particular flavor is that the happiness Chick and Colin have found is not fated to last.
Chick, as it turns out, is ruinously addicted to acquiring the works of philosopher Jean-Sol Partre. The sections where Chick visits dealers and discusses the finer points of his acquisitions are as dead-on a satire of the antiquarian book world as you are going to find.
Even worse, in the midst of their happiness, Colin’s beloved Chloe gets seriously ill. The malady, as a doctor played by Gondry himself discovers, is that a large water lily is growing in her lung. This may sound ridiculous, but in the context of the film it is deadly serious.
With its indefinable, almost indescribable combination of whimsy, sentiment and strangeness, Mood Indigo (co-written by Gondry and Luc Bossi) will not be to all tastes at all times. But frame for frame, the amount of invention going on here can’t be believed unless it’s seen.
In French with English subtitles
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