Life’s Spectrum: MOOD INDIGO

mood indigo

Michel Gondry’s most ambitious film to date, MOOD INDIGO alternately plays like one of the director’s early, playfully innovative music videos stretched to feature-length, or ETERNAL SUNSHINE without brakes, or AMELIE on crack. An adaptation of a beloved 1947 French novel by Boris Vian, it’s set in a alternate-universe Paris full of retro accents (mid-century jazz fills the soundtrack and informs the characters’ aesthetic) and futuristic embellishments, like a “pianocktail”, an upright that concocts potent potables whose ingredients are determined by the keys played and pedals pushed.

The lead, independently wealthy Colin (Romain Duris) leisurely spends his days in the company of his pianocktail, his man-servant Nicolas (Omar Sy), best friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh), who is obsessed with the writer Jean-Sol Partre (think about it for a second), and a little mouse who lives in his intricately-designed home, teeming with habitrails and a menagerie of fanciful gewgaws like an animated doorbell that disintegrates and reassembles whenever rung. As Nicolas and Chick settle down with romantic partners, Colin begins to feel left out. At a party, he meets his true love Chloe (played by Amelie herself, Audrey Tautou) and their whirlwind romance climaxes in a grand wedding ceremony, perhaps cinema’s first to include an impromptu, inexplicable but highly entertaining go-kart drag race throughout the cathedral.

While Duris and Tautou are fine, this is emphatically a director’s showcase. Gondry continually ramps up the film’s pace to the point where it nearly overwhelms; viewers who do not possess a stomach for such whimsy will probably take offense. However, after peaking with a delirious honeymoon sequence (scored to Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown”, of all things), the tone shifts gradually at first, and then dramatically. Without giving too much away, MOOD INDIGO reveals itself as a much darker, weightier tale than it initially appears. The second half’s production design—an increasingly washed out color palette and a muted, introspective calm best personified by the repeated use of Mia Doi Todd’s spare, melancholy song “Spring”—is as affecting as the first half’s zippy, sensory overload.

I wasn’t familiar with Vian’s novel, which doesn’t have the cultural currency here it obviously has in France, but various comments online suggest this is a faithful adaptation, particularly in, well, its mood and how it evolves from beginning to end. In that case, it’s an ideal text for Gondry, for it matches up with what ETERNAL SUNSHINE had to say about how love inevitably fades—only here, anything that fills a life with happiness and contentment is subject to change. In other words, Nothing Lasts Forever. As with ETERNAL SUNSHINE and, for that matter, AMELIE, I’m not entirely convinced this is a great film after one viewing—there’s just so much to take in—but, like those films, I’m optimistic that subsequent viewings of MOOD INDIGO could reveal additional emotional facets beyond its many, many surface pleasures.  Grade: A-

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