Mood Indigo feels like a line in the sand. For the anti-appreciates of Michel Gondry‘s style, it could almost be taken as a dare. “You don’t like twee whimsy? HERE’S EVEN MORE OF IT.” For fans of the director, it comes across as a test. “You love this cotton candy stop-motion quirk? We will shove it down your throat for two hours (an hour and a half in the US cut).” In previous Gondry films, flights of fancy came within specific settings, like dreamworlds or sweded movies. The entire universe of Mood Indigo is a cacophony of magical doohickeys, alien practices and other phenomena that go both unexplained and uncommented-upon. Alarm bells skitter around on insect legs. People go on dates in flying cloud machines. When they dance, their bodies contort into weird, often unsettling ways. A contraption called a pianocktail mixes drinks based on what keys you hit on a piano. And so on and so forth.
None of this fantasticalness is of Gondry’s invention. The film is a faithful adaptation of French writer Boris Vian‘s 1947 novel “L’Écume des Jours” (“Froth on the Daydream” or “Foam of the Daze“). All this weirdness springs from Vian’s imagination — Gondry and his crew are merely the enthusiastic translators from page to screen. If nothing else, the film made me want to check out the book and see just what kind of madness can come from the uninhibited possibilities of the written word.
Underneath the whirligig colors and animated zaniness is a very basic story. Colin (Romain Duris) is a man content to luxuriate in his wealth, enjoying his pianocktail and the attention of his multitalented servant/cook, Nicolas (Omar Sy). But then he falls in love with Chloé (Audrey Tatou) and everything changes. After a whirlwind romance — which, given this universe, I am surprised does not feature an actual whirlwind — they marry, and soon after, Chloé falls ill due to a lily lodging itself in her lung. Your reaction to that sentence is probably a good barometer of whether or not you’ll be onboard for this movie. Colin exhausts his resources treating her disease, but everything seems to be trudging towards tragedy.
It’s of great concern that a half hour was cut from Mood Indigo, yet the movie remains completely comprehensible. It’s so indulgent as it is that I shudder to think of how much fat originally saddled the thing. It feels like more of a subplot about Colin’s friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) was dropped, but that does not go terribly missed. At any rate, it feels like a rare case where taking scissors to the runtime was a good thing (I must stress that I have not seen the original version and cannot say anything for sure).
All of this may sound negative, but I was able to dig a lot of Mood Indigo. It wisely front-loads its weirdness so that you know what you’re in for, then it keeps varying rather than intensifying it. Duris and Tatou know how to play with their almost archetypical roles and their scenarios so that they can wring some real emotion out of it. And it is all very lovely to look at. But it’s just so much whimsy that it feels like a barrage, and the effect is numbing after a while. It might perhaps have worked best as a short film.
The Upside: Lovely to look at, and sometimes quite affecting.
The Downside: So much quirk. Too much.
On the Side: I strongly encourage you to look up Boris Vian, because the dude was kind of fascinating.