3.5 / 5 stars
The films that Michel Gondry is best known for, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind, may have magic in their margins but they possess true emotion at their center. No matter how ridiculous or fantastical, these two wonderful films are really about human connections, built, destroyed and sometimes erased. Mood Indigo, coming a decade after Spotless Mind, has all the visual Gondry earmarks – oh boy, and then some – but so little of the heart that lifts his previous work. Fans of Gondry’s will either heartily embrace Mood Indigo’s riotous energy or decline its playful advances – it all depends on your expectations.
For those who favor dreamlike, surrealist imagery over all, Mood Indigo won’t disappoint. In a recent interview with The Playlist, Gondry said he read the famed novel (L’Écume des jours) by Boris Vian as a teenager, “like most people in France,” and Gondry directs the adaptation like a teenager. The brilliant stop-frame animation and editing is hip and hyperactive, objects and people and machines and food zipping around oddly shaped rooms, our viewpoint like that of a small child suddenly given a magnifying glass to spy on the flea circus. There is plenty of wonder, and a warm pocketful of laughs along the way.
The story revolves around two lovers, a rich weirdo inventor named Colin (Romain Duris) and an eternal sweetie named Chloé (Audrey Tautou, who else and thank goodness). After being introduced at a party that’s punctuated by a bizarre, physically impossible, bow-legged dance called the “biglemoi,” Colin and Chloé enjoy the quirkiest of quirky courtings. They soar over Paris in a cloud car attached to a crane and ice skate at a rink that’s DJ’d by some kind of strange creature and frequented by skaters with freakishly flexible legs (again with the legs). The happy couple is playing shy and falling in love, but there’s so much eyeball-bending craziness to take in, we kind of have to take the characters’ word for it.
There are images reminiscent of Terry Gilliam, Charlie Kaufman, even Tautou’s Amelie filmmaker, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a fascinating deconstruction of technology that also, unfortunately, reduces the characters’ emotional impact on the story. When Chloé falls terribly ill with lung disease – creatively contracted, of course – the plot point is more of a catalyst to drive design than any other aspect of the film.
And that’s okay if you know the hand you’re dealt with Mood Indigo. The approach, as uncomfortably frenetic as it sometimes feels, is practically exploding with a passion for imagery, in all its cinematic functions and forms. Colin, a master inventor of the unusual and unnecessary, may very well be the onscreen image of Gondry himself, a man similarly committed to his art. And almost imperceptibly, the director finally alters what we see based on what the characters feel. It’s touching and appropriate and almost a little too late. But it’s a nice, gentle note to cap this achievement of a visual fantasy, and it’s gone too quickly.