Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy, Aïssa Maïga, Charlotte Le Bon, Sacha Bourdo
Running Time: 1:34
Release Date: 7/18/14 (limited); 7/25/14 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 24, 2014
From the start, director Michel Gondry seems to be daring us to reject the world of Mood Indigo. The opening minutes are packed to the brim with copious amounts of information of the visual, verbal, and aural varieties. It comes at us at a breakneck pace. Even before we meet the main cast, Gondry throws us into an uncertain scene of a control room and an assembly line of typists, frantically tapping away at moving typewriters and stretching their arms to finish a sentence before it gets to the next writer on the line. One types something about a man cleaning himself, and the scene shifts to Colin (Romain Duris), who is, indeed, finishing up a bath.
To drain the water, he grabs a power drill and bores a hole in the bottom of the tub. His downstairs neighbor is at first annoyed by the pouring water but decides to make the most of it, grabbing a pot filled with dirt and placing it under the stream. A plant bursts from the soil in time-lapse animation.
This is just the start of the main action in this introductory passage, and while we're trying to comprehend the major events of the film, we barely have a chance to register what's in the background. We notice a shifting calendar—featuring images that look like fear-inducing propaganda—in the control room. Later, we might catch a glimpse of cars driving down the street and sense that something is amiss. They are either going in reverse or designed in such a way that what we would expect to be the rear is the front of the vehicle. Honestly, though, it's incredibly easy miss a lot of the little details because we're still baffled by the larger ones—like why there's a man the size of a mouse in a mouse costume living in Colin's apartment.
The temptation is to immediately imagine some kind of symbolism to these images and conceits. What does the man the size of a mouse in a mouse costume represent? Well, he represents a mouse, obviously. On a more fundamental level, sometimes a man the size of a mouse in a mouse costume is nothing more than a man the size of a mouse in a mouse costume. It's fair to say that Gondry wants us to realize and acknowledge both of these levels. Things here represent exactly what they most obviously appear to be, and they also exist to bring attention to the fact that they are strange—sometimes wondrously and, later, dreadfully so.
He's conveying a heightened sense of reality. Everything here has some foundation in the real world, but all of it is tuned to a higher frequency. There's the doorbell in Colin's apartment, which comes to life when it rings, scurries around the place, and resurrects itself after someone smashes it to stop the commotion. There's the way the characters' legs turn into longer, curved versions of appendages whenever these people are dancing. There are the video monitors, from which a television chef can hand a spice bottle to a confused cook.
Now, though, we're back to interpretation. Why is this world the way it is? Is it real or some dream imagined by that gathering of writers? Are they akin to the hypothetical monkeys replicating Shakespeare but instead attempting to imitate life as it really is, accidentally or intentionally getting the details wrong?
Adapted from the novel L'Écume des Jours (originally known as Froth on the Daydream in English-speaking regions) by Boris Vian, the screenplay by Gondry and Luc Bossi does not allow us any significant understanding of these writers. They type, and their writing affects events in this world. Considering the motif of strings that appears throughout the film (most noticeably in a scene where Colin bats away a menacing thread), they are likely agents of fate. Unless, of course, they are simply what they are: the authors of a magical, melodramatic fiction in which the characters know what is happening but play along anyway.
The important thing is the story these writers are controlling, either through complete invention or by various degrees of omnipotent influence. It's about the jobless but independently wealthy Colin, who decides he wants a romantic relationship with a woman after he learns that his friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) and his manservant/friend Nicolas (Omar Sy) have started dating women. He meets Chloé (Audrey Tautou) at a party. A romance between them quickly develops. There's a scene in which two lovers fly across Paris in a cloud car. It would be freedom, save for the fact that a crane (the line connecting it to the car is like string) is moving the cloud. It's an illusion of freedom.
In that moment and in most of the moments throughout the first two acts, they are happy, and the world reflects their outlook. Here, we get the wondrous visuals—a walk through a train tunnel where feathers fall like snowflakes, a ride in a limo with rainbow-tinted windows, a picnic in a field that is half sunny and half rainy. When Chloé becomes ill from a flower petal that attaches itself to her lung, the wonders of the world start to fade—gradually but unceasingly.
Now the dreadful appears. Colors become less vibrant. Their bedroom, which would adjust its shape to music, starts to shrink. We have been fighting against the foolishness of this world, and by the last act of Mood Indigo, there is very good reason to believe that such resistance has been part of Gondry's plan the entire time. It is what it is: an illusion.
Note: The version of the film released in the United States has been edited from its original release, removing almost 30 minutes with Gondry's approval. Hopefully, we will get the original cut in some format.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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