“Mood Indigo” is a bittersweet love story set in a surrealistic Paris of an indeterminate 20th-century era. It derives from the combined imaginations of veteran video/feature film director Michel Gondry (“The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) and the late French novelist Boris Vian.
Vian’s 1947 novel “L’Écume des Jours” (“Mood Indigo”) developed a following in that country as its phantasmagorical depiction of a melancholy love story caught the mood of postwar France along with its celebration of American jazz, the Saint-Germain-des-Pres literary set and romantic fatalism, all wrapped up in a Rene Clair influenced, sci-fi infused nouveau monde.
Offhand I can’t think of anyone better suited to adapt such a tricky literary work. On the other hand, I wish Gondry and co-writer Luc Bossi had resisted the impulse to take so many of the fantastical ideas in the novel so literally that they needed to find images for a crawling rodent-like doorbell, a dining table on roller skates and eels that flow out of kitchen taps.
One’s delight over such hallucinatory props, settings and creatures soon gives way to a concern, which develops into despair, that all this imagery is coming between you and what is, in fact, a relatively simple story of boy meets girl and boy then loses that girl.
The heightened emotions of sickness and loss get pummeled by the insistent, nay aggressive, visual effects. I guess the one thing you can be grateful for is that this is a much shorter version of the film released in France about three months ago.
What you have here is, according to publicity material, Gondry’s “shorter, preferred cut for American audiences” — a mere 94 minutes instead of a bloated 130-minutes version he treated European audiences to.
The starry cast includes Romain Duris as softhearted bourgeois inventor Colin, who in a quest for love meets Audrey Tautou’s generous, quick-witted Chloé. The blush of romantic love overtakes them in the best sections of this movie.
On their honeymoon she develops a serious medical condition when a lilypad is found growing in her lung. To save her, Colin brings flowers daily to surround her with in hopes this flora will scare anyway the invasive one.
Among those in their mutual support system is Colin’s longtime cook/lawyer/companion Nicolas (“Intouchables’” Oma Sy) — forever concocting increasingly improbable food dishes — his daughter Alise (Aïssa Maïga), Colin’s best friend Chick (comic Gad Elmaleh) and a small mouse (played in miniature size by Sacha Bourdo).
Gondry and his visual artists do pull off some impressive stuff here and there. I particularly like Colin’s “pianocktail,” a piano that when played uses the notes and pedal to create music-inspired cocktails. Or the “biglemoi,” where dancers develop giant, nearly uncontrollable rubbery legs to boogie to a televised performance of Duke Ellington’s “Chloé.”
The screen is dazzling alive every minute but the visual gimmickry puts you at an emotional remove from the tale being told. How anybody feels about the illness and its aftermath gets overwhelmed by the jokey clutter of otherworldly effect and animation.
Too bad. What was needed here perhaps was a collaboration with Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine” screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who knows how to locate emotions in surreal universes.
The movie is mostly then a visual treat and, appropriately, the film was nominated for three 2014 César awards for original music, costumes and production design.
Opens: July 18, 2014 Los Angeles, New York (Drafthouse Films)
Production companies: Brio Films, Studiocanal, France 2 Cinema, Scope Pictures Herodiade 7
Cast: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy, Aïssa Maïga, Charlotte Le Bon, Alain Chabat
Director: Michel Gondry
Screenwriters: Michel Gondry, Luc Bossi
Based on the novel by: Boris Vian
Producer: Luc Bossi
Executive producer: Xavier Castano
Director of photography: Christophe Beaucarne
Production designer: Stephane Rozenbaum
Music: Etienne Charry
Costume designer: Florence Fontaine
Editor: Marie-Charlotte Moreau
No rating, 94 minutes