Romain Duris as Colin, Audrey Tautou as Chloe, and Omar Sy as Nicolas. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for Mood Indigo.
June 13, 2013
(Republished July 24, 2013)
Everything wilts, but not Michel Gondry's talents as an imaginative, inimitable, and incisive storyteller. With Mood Indigo, he tracks a relationship's birth to its ultimate dissolution. Romain Duris stars as Colin, a wealthy Frenchman who spends every last cent on treatment for his ailing wife, Chloé (Audrey Tautou). Suffering from a water lily in the lung, the only cure - an inept doctor (Gondry) informs her - is to be surrounded by flowers.
As the tulips and roses wither, Gondry's bright, cartoonish aesthetic evolves into something darker. Abstract commentary is made on the simmering turmoil in France, and death and despair permeates what was once a frothy French rom-com. Some may call it a sharp right turn, although only if they were expecting a happy ending. The tragedy is, Mood Indigo takes the path most of us are more familiar with.
Gondry and Luc Bossi adapt Boris Vian's 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream for the screen, undeniably making it their own by deploying the director's famous DIY visual trickery to spectacular effect. The mind boggles at the sights conjured here. An underwater wedding procession; an elaborate cooking station with in-built celebrity chef; leg extensions for complicated dance moves. I can't do them justice with mere words. Fans of Gondry can probably imagine.
Another spectacular image: the opening sequence, in which trains of typewriters are shared by dozens of people in a row, evoking the famous 'infinite monkey' hypothesis (that an infinite amount of monkeys writing on an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite amount of time will eventually recreate every previously written work of art). The events of Colin's life are revealed to be the collective efforts of this assembly line, a hint at the randomness and cruelty of existence (so French!), as well as the sometimes unbelievable awesomeness of it all.
The filmmaker's flights of fancy become a little less whimsical as the picture progresses, but never not fantastic. The once-light-hearted Colin has his spirit broken by the workforce. (The only jobs available to him? Helping to "grow" military weaponry, and going door to door breaking bad news to citizens.) Chloé's hospital, meanwhile, has a neon sign out front illuminating the process in which corpses are disposed. Doesn't seem like Gondry has much faith in the French health system. Doesn't seem like Gondry has much faith in the French anything.
The final act, mostly without dialogue and in black-and-white, is something of a companion piece to King Vidor's The Crowd, and as that starkly realist silent picture struck audiences during the Great Depression, Mood Indigo comes as social unrest builds in France. I don't recommend anyone looking for metaphorical, one-to-one comparisons, however. I can't guarantee that Gondry's commentary is all that specific. Poetry need not make absolute sense, it just needs to feel right. Mood Indigo, as a broken-hearted tale of life, love, and death in an increasingly fractured society, feels right.
Gondry has long been obsessed with cycles. Think back to the music video for Bjork's Bachelorette, or the ending of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Mood Indigo considers just the one cycle: from life to death. Yes, that's a sad trajectory. It's also an inevitable one. Is it a worthwhile one? That's the question posed, particularly to Colin, who was once upon a time happy to live in blissful ignorance of the outside world and set to simply enjoy the novelties of wealth, before he had a wife and life to pay for. Mood Indigo doesn't end on an upbeat note, yet the joy felt in the early stages of the picture are undeniable, suggesting that even if misfortune awaits us all, there's enough good in one lifetime to make the inevitable suffering worth the trouble.
I thought a lot of thoughts during Mood Indigo, and felt a lot of feelings. Much like the movie itself, I'm having trouble assembling them into a cohesive whole, but I hope I'm conveying, at least somewhat, what I've taken away from it. Romain and Tautou are wonderful, as is Omar Sy as their chipper, reliable confidante Nicolas. So much left to say, and no room left to say it. Mood Indigo inspired plaintive melancholy, and so did the writing of this review.
Mood Indigo plays the Melbourne International Film Festival July 26 and August 4, 2013.