Movie Review: Mood Indigo
I still remember 2004, being the first time that the name Michel Gondry reached my ears.
Early previews for the film Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind had me intrigued, as a company called Lacuna claimed in film trailers, that they could help erase bad memories from one’s psyche. And that became the theme of the film starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Of course, it was one of the first times I was introduced to the whimsical and non-linear way that Gondry’s visuals took flight. And after almost a decade, it’s still one of my favorite films of 2004.
The last time I saw Gondry’s work was in 2006, with The Science of Sleep, which proved to be a little different. While there was a love story in place, this film took on a much “thicker,” non-linear feel than Sunshine, and left me feeling it was more style-over-substance.
Since then, Gondry’s filmography has ping-ponged through numerous projects, from documentaries to more feature films. Though in terms of fanciful projects, his 2013 release Mood Indigo is probably the first film since The Science of Sleep that deals with emotions and creativity within Gondry’s mind.
The film opens with a young man named Colin (Romain Duris). He lives in a very eccentrically-made apartment, and has plenty of money to live comfortably (aka ‘he doesn’t need to work’). His care-free life is so perfect, that he has invented the pianocktail (a piano that will make a cocktail as you play a piece on it).
However, Colin feels that his life is missing something, and when his friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) claims he’s found a girl to date, Colin declares that he wants to fall in love too! He soon gets that chance, in the form of Chloe (Audrey Toutou), whom he meets at a party. Chloe seems the perfect match for Colin’s eccentricities, and even his personal cook/lawyer/friend Nicolas (Omar Sy) takes a shine to her.
Things appear to be going well for Colin and Chloe, until the day it’s found that a flower is growing within one of her lungs…which begins to unsettle their perfect little world.
As soon as the film starts, you are immediately swallowed up in the visually-maddening world created by Gondry. When one first lays eyes on Colin’s apartment, it’s a visual whirlwind that will most likely cause many to flashback to the likes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. The chef on the TV speaks directly to Nicolas, a little mouse (or a person in a mouse-suit) skitters around the abode (and whom Colin and Nicolas talk to), and the doorbell device crawls around like a bug on a wall when there’s someone at the door.
Mood Indigo could almost be likened to a fever dream in its execution, and the audience has the choice of either being carried along on its whimsical impossibilities, or just running for the door. Much like some of his more creative music videos, Gondry uses an entire arsenal of effects trickery. Legs extend during a dance lesson, a bird-headed woman is seen presiding over an ice rink, and Nicolas’ wacky dishes come to life through the magic of stop-motion animation. While some are easily figured out, others made me eager to see the curtain rise on some of these tricks.
The film is based on the book Foam of the Daze, by Boris Vian (who also wrote the story, I Spit On Your Graves). Gondry has claimed that the book stuck with him through much of his life, and that he was always thinking of how to make the written words come to life on-screen. As well, Vian also knew Duke Ellington, a big-band jazz musician, whose works and song titles fit within the film (the film’s title and even Chloe’s name are derived from two of his songs).
Cast-wise, Gondry has rounded up a number of good persons to play in his sandbox. Duris brings an airy laissez-faire quality to Colin, to the point that I almost got sick of him within 5 minutes…but as his life begins to change due to his responsibilities, one can see him struggling to “grow up” in a sense. One can hear the audible ennui when at one point he tells Chloe, “I have to get a job.”
Toutou almost channels Amelie Poulain once again in the cutesy character of Chloe, a somewhat free spirit who tries to stay positive in the face of the many things that are befalling her.
Gondry’s strength in Eternal Sunshine was in visualizing the story of romance and how even the rosiest of things may not turn out to be so perfect. Here, Mood Indigo seems to channel that vibe we see in films by say, Edgar Wright: the carefree man-child who wants the girl, but finds that to have her, means you have to grow up. As well, their relationship seems to intersect and criss-cross with numerous people they know.
This same mood is typified in Colin’s friend Chick, and his girlfriend, Alise (Aissa Maiga). Much of the film, it seems Alise is eager for Chick to pop the big question, but he seems moreso ensconced and fascinated by a famous writer, named Jean Sol-Partre (Phillippe Torrenton). This subplot I felt could have been a little better illustrated, as we see Chick’s fascination with the writer grow into a dangerous obsession.
One of the characters that I think will stick with many, is the incredibly faithful and overly-reliant Nicolas. Omar Sy imbues this gentle giant with a demeanor that almost makes you wish you could be friends with him as well. He gives so selflessly of himself to those he deems worthy of his friendship, and in one scene, promises to stick with Colin even though it is ‘aging’ him terribly (because of a promise he makes to Chloe). In a way, he was amazingly similar to a co-worker at a former job, so maybe that’s why I felt Nicolas was so comfortable a co-character.
Where the film falters to me, is that it feels that Gondry goes a little too far into his flights of fancy. This feels like one of those pet-projects some directors are eager to finally get out of their system, and when they do, it ends up almost projectile-vomiting across the screen with its visuals. The film in a way, reminded me of Barry Levinson’s 1992 film, Toys. That film also intended to convey a message or a deeper story, but its visuals got in the way of its message one too many times.
One of the most intriguing scenes in the film, is what appears to be a secretarial office with typewriters moving past multiple people. Each one gets 10-20 seconds to type something on one typewriter, before it moves on down the line to the next person. It is seen several times over the course of the film, but we are never given proper context on just where this place is (is it a room where the film is being randomly written by multiple people? Is it within Colin’s head?).
Some of Gondry’s stylings did put me in mind of another artist whose visions have exploded across the screen several times: Terry Gilliam. In a sense, some of the world does feel as irreverent as the things Gilliams visualized in his films like Brazil, which was also a love story set in a strange world (albeit one of the future). Strange that in many flights of fantasy, they are either set in dystopian futures, or with people in love.
I was lucky to see Indigo as one of the offerings by The Chicago Critics’ Film Festival, which was playing at The Music Box Theater. Current plans (as of this writing), are for a release on July 18, 2014, by way of Drafthouse Films’ distribution arm. However, two cuts of the film are said to exist, with Gondry trimming the film for international release. After double-checking the information, it appears that what I witnessed last night was the trimmed version. One figures that maybe in the future, a DVD release may warrant the longer, 2-hour cut (though it does make me wonder if a lot of what I questioned in the version I saw, will make more sense).
For those who are willing to keep their minds turned on and dive into the murky waters of Michel Gondry’s imagination, Mood Indigo may be just the thing you’ve been looking for. However, if one is able to come out of the film and know exactly what was going on, you’re a far better person than I am. Then again, I have just started reading Boris Vain’s original story, so maybe some of those hotpoles in the film’s plot will be filled in.