Cast: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Omar Sy, Gad Elmaleh, Aissa Maiga
Director: Michel Gondry
Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
*DISCLAIMER: Those opposed to whimsy need not enter here!
Goofy, surreal, madcap, playful, imaginative, twee and other like-minded adjectives used to describe Michel Gondry's latest concoction ultimately comes up short in encompassing the absurdist glee the talented auteur cobbles together out of spare parts throughout Mood Indigo. For here's a picture that delights in it's own fantastical universe of invention, almost as if a magic toy box has been broken into and an assortment of homemade gadgets been allowed to run rampant. In the film's first 15-minutes alone, Mood Indigo crams in so many wacky visual flourishes that it's nearly impossible to catch everything in one viewing. These include, but are not limited to; a man in a mouse costume, autonomous people cranking out the meta-storyline of the central character on moving typewriters, an eel poking out of a faucet, a TV chef inside a refrigerator, a spider-like doorbell crawling up walls, a cocktail-making piano belting out Duke Ellington songs, and a table on roller skates. Some will claim the film pushes too hard and that Gondry is allowing his worst instincts to wrestle control over the tone here; but while this very well may be true, the fruits of his labor are an undeniably creative tour de force.
The story concerns fidgety bachelor Colin (Romain Duris) and his love affair with fetching Chole (Audrey Tautou), which forms the basis for a fairytale-like narrative that begins with a meet cute, end ups in marriage, and eventually dovetails into crippling illness. While it's true that this basic plot is fairly unoriginal, and how Chloe's deteriorating health affects both those around her as well as the physical environment plays somewhat heavy-handed, it's tough to complain too much when Gondry is in such command of his visual aesthetic. Other supporting characters pop up too; a dapper cook (Omar Sy), a best pal with a crazy philosopher fixation (Gad Elmaleh) and his desperate to be married fiance (Aissa Maiga), but they are mostly used as devices in order to give us a film of two very different, but not entirely incompatible, halves.
During the stop-motion-heavy first half, the editing is rapid-fire, the pacing chaotic, and the imagery brazenly surreal, playing like Pee Wee's Playhouse on acid mixed with a live-actionTex Avery cartoon. To some, all of this may be further evidence that Gondry is a self-indulgent egotist unable to reign in his bubbling imagination, but truthfully, there's really no one else out there making films like this, and Mood Indigo is undoubtably a kind of uber-Gondry greatest hits compilation. The film isn't all stylized quirkiness, though. In the darker second half, the film explores the various stages of a relationship and how the inevitability of death (in this case due to sudden illness), molds and changes that relationship over time. As the editing becomes less frenzied and the pacing slows down considerably, the color palette desaturates, going from a murky monochrome to full-on black & white by the third act. A neat trick is pulled off here, as the film lulls us into a false sense of security with loads of frothy brightness early on, only to tighten it's grip around the notion that all beauty and wonder must eventually wither.
This tonal change is initially jarring, but the combination of precocious whimsy and tragic undercurrents do have their earmarks in Gondry's past work. Both The Science of Sleep and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for example, have moments of sadness and melancholy along with surreal flights of fancy. Unlike those aforementioned pictures, though, Mood Indigo refuses to couch it's surreality in anything approaching the real world. There's no clear distinction between what's real and imaginary here; instead, Gondry simply throws us into this madcap universe without a net, and consequently, it's unlikely most will be as emotionally invested in the characters as they were in some of his more beloved work. While this lack of emotional identification can be read as a flaw, Mood Indigo has such a uniquely impressively tactile quality that even it's refusal to give us a basis in reality proves a daring deconstruction of how fanciful, thrilling, and ultimately heartbreaking life can be.