Directed Michel Gondry and co-written by Michel Gondry with Luc Bossi, Mood Indigo is a certifiable French confection of a film. Like a Montmartre crepe, or a small cup of coffee at the cafe Les Deux Magots or Le Cafe De Flore next door on Saint-German des Pres, the film is more about a moment than something that will stay with you as a lasting memory.
Starring Romain Duris as Colin and Audrey Tautou as Chloe, the film is structured to be a love story. Boy meets girl, they date, they fall in love, and they marry. But that is the part of the film that makes the least impact.
But that’s getting a wee bit ahead. Some additional background. The film is an adaption of a French novel called Froth On the Daydream (L’Écume des Jours ). It was written in 1947 by one Boris Vian. Vian ran around with a philosopher you may have heard of Jean-Paul Sartre. Vian died in 1958, and Sartre in 1980.
While Vian’s specialties as a novelist included numerous made-up words, subtle wordplay and surrealistic plots, Sartre was on a completely different avenue as a follower of philosophy, existentialism, and even Marxism. Vian, Sartre, and folks like the prominent feminist Simone de Beauvoir, made the Left Bank cafès and coffee houses famous in their own way.
Mood Indigo opens with a huge dollop of surrealism. Imagine then how people sit in a lecture hall. Then imagine that they are all writers.
All sixty of them sit and conveyor belts pass by in front of them. Mounted on the conveyor belts are typewriters. Not quite the Moveable Feast that Hemingway called Paris – but certainly we can say – moveable type as well as typing. Each of them would type a sentence at a time as the typewriters passed by. And so, all the typed pages were collected and bound and voila – a book had been written. This was just the first of many visual bon-bons that Gondry served up for us.
Or how about this. Colin has a 6:00 PM date with Chloe. He’s running late (literally). You see as he is ready to leave, he has to chase down his shoes who left the apartment on schedule, and on their own without Colin’s feet to enable the marching orders. Whimsical? Definitely. Unexpected? Certainly. Laugh out loud funny? Oui, oui – but of course.
Live eels – meant to be consumed as an appetizer, arrive on their own via the pipes and the kitchen faucets and have to be captured in order to prepare them for dinner. The telephones are like large beetles that crawl around the floor, and you must run after them to answer the phones. When a recipe calls for a tomato, one opens a kitchen drawer and from within the drawer a two-inch high chef hands you the tomato. People’s legs become long and rubbery allowing them to create dance steps never before even imagined. There’s even a part of the wedding that seemingly takes place underwater.
Colin’s apartment is part railway car, part bus, and mostly apartment. The apartment is filled with pneumatic tubes, mice that assist with household duties,
and various assorted Rube Goldbergian inventions – everything the modern Frenchman needs including a pianocktail.
That’s a play of the words piano and cocktail – play the piano and this machine prepares a drink for you including ice cubes and mint leaves, limes, or lemons when called for.
These wacky and wonderful concepts, gizmos, and surreal situations come at you so fast and furiously that you might resent having to read the English subtitles because to do so, you have to look at the bottom of the screen – so surely you don’t see everything you’re supposed to.
Back to the story. Colin has a friend, Chick, is who is a major fan of one Jean-Sol Partre, a famous fictional French philosopher that no one has heard of before this film. Chick is also broke as every sou he can get his hands on goes toward his Partre collectibles. So Colin and Chick head off to a party, and there Colin meets Chloe.
While not quite love at first sight – Durin plays Colin as something of a bumbling fool, albeit a wealthy bumbling fool – at least initially. We don’t see much of the courtship. Mainly there are just two scenes – a walk into a disused train tunnel, and a ride that can be described best as floating in a cloud above Paris. Suspended at the end of a long cable from a tall crane describes it even better.
As I said – they marry – but that’s as far as I’ll take you into the story.
You’ll laugh at loud quite frequently, and when you are not doing that you will admire the audacity, the cleverness, and the inventiveness. Unfortunately, none of this applies to the people.
Yes, the film is a delightful bag of goodies. The actors – Duris and Tautou aren’t given anything special to say. Nor do they have to do much in the way of acting. This film is definitely not an actor’s movie. Rather this is all about the production design, the set design, and the artistic creativity.
All of which are done beautifully. Without a doubt you will marvel, enjoy and appreciate all that you see. But there’s a price – and that is that you can’t connect with the characters. The very carefully constructed set pieces of the wonderful apartment that Colin lives in steals the first half of the film. And when the second half gets going it is all about Colin’s efforts –
but really, by then, it is too late for us to become invested in the problem that this couple have to deal with. We simply can’t care enough.
In a single sentence – too much artistry, design, and creativity simply bury the actors. Three point zero out of five. Or said another way – Tautou’s Amelie meets Terry Gilliam’s Brazil by way of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with the garnish or embellishment being a pinch of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise.
By the way, Mood Indigo is a famous piece of music made popular by Duke Ellington who by means of cinema/tv appears in the film. And to conclude this review, I’ll remind you of a song written long ago but made famous by Barbra Streisand more than forty years ago. It is a wonderful tune about creativity that lost its way:
You made the coat and vest fit the best
You made the lining nice and strong
But Sam, you made the pants too long.
Check out the trailer, if you like.