Do you remember what falling in love feels like? It is a wonderful, and kooky experience – the coming together (when it works out) of two frames of reference that overlap to create a new private worldview, one with its own language, mythologies, and unique vision. Watching Michel Gondry’s latest film, Mood Indigo, can feel a little like stepping into the surreal and unfamiliar intimacies of somebody else’s already established space.
The shared secret life of lovers is a familiar theme for Gondry, it is 10 years since the visionary director gave us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Undoubtedly his most well-received film to date, Eternal Sunshine acts as interesting counterpoint to Mood Indigo. While Eternal Sunshine brought us the story of a couple who, through their effort of trying to split apart, end up moving closer together; Moon Indigo is a film about people desperately attempting to be together despite the inevitability of separation.
Colin (Romain Duris) is an affluent bachelor, who lives a life of luxury in the kind of pad that would make Willy Wonka turn green. In between churning out boozy tunes with his best friend Chick (Gad Emelah) on the Pianocktail (that’s right – it’s a piano that mixes up alcoholic concoctions based on your musical input) and having all manner of incredible animated treats cooked up by his chef Nicolas (Omar Sy, from the excellent Untouchable), Colin realises that he needs to find a lover to make his life complete. He meets Chloé (Audrey Tautou, from Amelie) at a party and things are set in stop-motion.
While the source is based on a novel (Boris Vian’s “L’Écume des jours” – which is a classic in France, apparently) Mood Indigo shows Gondry at his most Gondry-esque by far. Grab a single still frame from Colin’s apartment and there will be enough optical ingenuity crammed in to make your head spin. Watching it all in action can be overwhelming. The front doorbell rings and sets off a stop-motion ringing bell bug who proceeds to whizz about the chemistry lab kitchen where Nicolas is cooking eels that run like water in and out of the taps, while a celebrity chef on TV reaches through the screen to pass the salt and a miniature man-mouse who lives in a tube that runs around the house watches on. It is visually stunning, and at times beautiful, but the sheer relentlessness can also become mind-numbing.
Amid all the clockwork chaos of Mood Indigo, there is very little space for anything meaningful to develop. Colin and Chloe’s love affair is one that is plagued by incessant novelty, and both Duris and Tautou seem a little washed out in Gondry’s world. With Eternal Sunshine, Gondry’s vision coalesced with Carrey and Winslet’s performances to create an on-screen chemistry that is noticeably lacking here. This release of the film appears to drop a good 30 minutes of footage from the French release last year, and one can only wonder (until the DVD release, at least) what elements were cut and if the longer edit could offer a more balanced experience. Despite the feeling of imbalance, Mood Indigo is a great visual achievement and a fascinating piece of film, particularly for fans of Gondry. While you may not fall head over heels for Mood Indigo, you’ll no doubt enjoy its company, while it lasts.
Published in the Dublin Gazette titles on Thursday 24th July 2014.