Regardless of the overall quality of his films, Michel Gondry is one of the few filmmakers who has a distinct visual aesthetic to his films (The Green Hornet notwithstanding). Rising to prominence like other modern-day directors through music videos, Gondry has carved out a unique creativity in the visual style of his films, most notably with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and to a lesser degree with Be Kind Rewind. Gondry provides plenty of visual flair in his latest film, Mood Indigo, but the style makes for an odd, uneven pairing with the films more tragic elements.
Mood Indigo is set in a slightly fantastical version of Paris. Colin (Romain Duris) is a well-off man who does not need to work for a living and enjoys the friendship of his best friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) and his chef/lawyer Nicolas (Omar Sy). Coincidentally, Chick happens to be dating Nicolas’ cousin, Alise (Aisa Maiga), whom he met at a lecture of a philosopher Chick is obsessed with that is a stand-in for Sartre. Colin also has a little “pet” mouse who lives in his apartment that is a man in a mouse suit. Colin’s life in this fantastic world is upended at a party when he stumbles into meeting Chloe (Audrey Tautou) at a birthday party. The two fall in love and marry. Things take a turn when on their honeymoon; Chloe inhales a flower while sleeping that lodges itself in her lung and begins to grow, making her ill.
The first thirty or so minutes of the film are a visual treat. There is an inventiveness and charming creativity to the slightly surreal view of the world that these characters inhabit in Gondy’s film. Colin’s apartment buzzer has legs and has to be squashed to shut it up. Nicolas is getting cooking instructions on TV and the chef reaches through the screen to help him. Music (the film gets its title from a Duke Ellington number from the 1930s) and a popular dance style cause people to have elongated, curved legs while they dance. Perhaps most whimsically,Colin owns a pianocktail, a piano that makes cocktails based on the notes that are played. Rooms change shape and size depending on the mood of the characters. Nicolas has a day-planner made out of a Rubik’s cube. Visually, it all evokes the best of Gilliam and Jeunet. There is a delightful sequence where Colin and Chloe get in a cloud-shaped ride that gives them a bird’s-eye view of Paris, lifted by a giant crane.
The whimsy and magical realism continue, even as the movie takes a dramatic turn. As Chloe’s health fails and Colin is forced to find work in order to afford her medical costs, the film gets slightly darker, but never any less whimsical, and it doesn’t quite fit together for me. Parts of it still work, as there is quality acting involve. Duris and Tautou are a good pairing, through his bumbling trying to make a good impression with her, and she being amused by his inability to be suave around her. I’m also not sure what to make of the stark contrast between how light-hearted the movie is while Colin is single and how dark and tragic things turn once he is married. There is a little bit of a Job feeling to it all that could be seen as a critique of the idle rich.
Mood Indigo is an adaptation of a book called Froth on the Daydream. It has been adapted into two other feature films as well as an opera. I can see the appeal that the story had for Gondry. I have also read that there is a 2-hour version of the movie, whereas I only saw the 90 minute version. Knowing that now, the film does feel like it has some missing parts. I would be interested to see what was excised from the runtime and if the movie feels more complete and cohesive. In the end, the pianocktail is perhaps the most telling part of the film, as it is left feeling like a cocktail that has some ingredients that just don’t quite work well together.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars