Michel Gondry clearly feels an artistic affinity with the late surrealist novelist Boris Vian. Gondry – who first came to prominence as a director of vividly fantastical music videos – made the leap to the big screen with 2004s The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, drawing inspiration from two stories by Vian to critical acclaim. His latest work is an adaptation of Vian’s most famous novel L’Ecume des Jours (English title: Mood Indigo), and it’s the Frenchman’s most vividly striking feature length work to date.
An appropriately wacky framing device sees the plot emerging in pieces, as if at random, from the collective typewriters of an administrative office in a cartoon fantasy-land Paris. Here lives wealthy Bachelor Colin (Romain Duris), his cook Nicolas (The Intouchables’ Omar Sy), and his pet mouse (Sacha Bourdo). Colin falls in love with Chloé (Audrey Tautou) with help from Duke Ellington and the song that shares her name.
The first half of the movie is stunning in the scale of its ambition. The sheer number of visual effects packed into each scene has to be seen to be believed. The burgeoning romance is played out to a symphony of set pieces involving innovative CGI, stop motion animation, and intricately imaginative props (such as Colin’s “Pianocktail”). It’s a sumptuous feast for the eyes in which narrative takes something of a back-seat; it’s difficult to feel for the human characters when the effects are the real stars.
The lack of human empathy that the spectacle engenders becomes a problem when it suddenly and unexpectedly dive-bombs into bleak and depressing territory around the time the Doctor (played by Gondry himself) delivers some bad news. The tonal shift is so severe that it dampens one’s enthusiasm for an over-long second act in which the rampant surrealism comes to seem tiresome and indulgent. Such dark emotion simply does not sit well in the context set by the film up to this point.
A sense of component parts not quite meshing may be heightened by translation to English (for example the signposted, humorous wordplay supposedly being employed by Nicolas never really comes across through the subtitles). English-speaking audiences will likely also share little of their Gallic counterparts’ fond familiarity with the source material.
From a purely artistic perspective, Mood Indigo is a must see, though those hoping for a satisfying story may struggle to pull one from its muddy depths.
Mood Indigo was released nationwide on 1st August 2014.
Watch the trailer for Mood Indigo here: