New Gondry more style than substance

Michel Gondry’s new film Mood Indigo offers a refreshing escape to a chimerical universe.

Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou in Mood Indigo

As a large hall of typewriters rotate, a papier maché eel comes out of a sink while a cook gets advice from another cook via a television set. And in the meantime, a miniature mouse man runs around the house helping out with domestic tasks. This (and more) is what happens during the opening sequence of Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo (L’écume des jours).

Based on the 1947 novel by Boris Vian, Froth on the Daydream (L’écume des jours), about jazz-loving bohemians at the heart of Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the film tells the story of Colin (Romain Duris), a wealthy young man who lives with his chef Nicolas (The Intouchables’ Omar Sy) and a mouse (Sacha Bourdo). His best friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) is obsessed with and literally swallows Jean-Sol Partre’s philosophy (you get it) in pill form before lunch.

When one day Chick announces that he has found the girl of his dreams, Colin declares that he must also fall in love. They go to a party and he gets introduced to a quick-minded gal named Chloé (Audrey Tautou). “Did you ever get played by Duke Ellington?” is not the best pick-up line, but it charms her enough to give this strange man (with shoes that run around like puppies) a chance.

Their romance blossoms, and they are soon married by a priest with a gun who makes them race to the altar. All goes well until the night of their honeymoon. Chloé swallows a snowflake and falls ill with a huge water lily growing in her lung. The rare condition forces Colin to start working, and as the money runs out and Chloé’s illness progresses, everything around them begins to wither.

Mood Indigo is an ambitious handmade collage that uses stop-motion technology instead of CGI. But its style overwhelms the narrative — granted, the novel itself is an absurd science fiction romance that seems nearly impossible to adapt to the small screen. Feel free to draw comparisons between Jean-Pierre Jaunet’s Amélie Poulain and even Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

During the first half of the movie you feel like a kid who got lost in Wonderland, with a popsicle in your hand, gaping and smiling at everything you see. There is no point in trying to make sense of anything. As the second half gets darker, however, you find yourself admiring the film for its style rather than actually enjoying it for its substance.

Tautou and Duris are a joy to watch, and they share some deep moments on screen towards the end. Gondry himself makes a cameo appearance as Chloé’s doctor — the one down to earth character in a movie filled with otherworldly heroes. The soundtrack is a jazzy delight, with original music by Étienne Chary and Ellington’s “Chloé” punctuating the narrative.

Overall, Mood Indigo marks Gondry’s return to form since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the script seems secondary, and the story is not as compelling as it should be. Nevertheless, the film has its merits and it definitely offers a refreshing escape to a chimerical universe. ■

Mood Indigo opens today

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