Mood Indigo

Director    Michel Gondry
Starring    Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy, Aïssa Maïga, Charlotte Le Bon
Release    18 July (US) 1 Aug (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars

Christopher Ratcliff

6th May 2014

I don't know about you, but I like my romantic comedies to be like a punch in the dick. Just a really sharp jab to my tenderest parts. I've had enough of all the mealy-mouthed cooing of your standard rom-com. Where's the cruelty? Where's the misanthropy? Where's the fear of mortality? Who cares about love when one of you is just going to die and leave the other one with a massively expensive hospital bill anyway?

Finally asking all the questions that Friends With Benefits and Failure to Launch didn't ask is Michel Gondry's endlessly twisting and sadistic Mood Indigo. A film that hates love, hates its protagonists and hates you even more.

Mood Indigo is based on the French novel 'L'écume des jours' (or Froth on the Daydream, or Foam on the Days, I don't know, Google Translator isn't helping me out much here and neither is my 'C' grade in GCSE French). It was written by Boris Vian. I mention the author purely for the fascinating fact that Vian is also responsible for the 1946 novel 'J'irai cracher sur vos tombes' on which the movie I Spit on Your Grave is based. Even more fascinatingly, it was during the premiere of I Spit on Your Grave that Boris Vian stood up only a few minutes after it had begun, screamed his dissatisfaction with the film and promptly died. How pleased the filmmakers must have been with themselves to have that notoriety as part of their publicity.

Perhaps understanding the history of the novel's author, his preoccupations with illness, death and nihilism and his own demise that is heavy on the dramatic-irony to say the least, will better prepare you for what to expect from a film largely marketed as a frothy rom-com.

Look at that poster up there. Look at how happy Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris look. Look how beautiful they are. Look how in love they are and Not-quite-spoiler-alert: they even get married! Aw!! And then... Definitely-spoiler-alert: one of them fucking dies. It takes ages as well. Really miserable and lingering.

Ah what's the point of all this? One of us is just going to die alone anyway.

For the first half of Mood Indigo we are treated to the very heights of Gondry inventiveness. It's an all-dancing, all-grinning cavalcade of boundless enthusiasm, meta-textual layers of reality and some of the hokiest stop-motion animation you'll see outside of an early-80s BBC Schools programme, In fact its very attitude is as insufferably positive and naive as the very worst of children's television.

Colin (Romain Duris) doesn't have a job, a wife, or even any real clue as to how the real world operates. What he does have though is a massive pile of cash, a servant called Nicolas (Omar Sy) who pisses on Jeeves from a great height in terms of cool and a talent for wacky inventions. Think Maurice Chevalier mixed with Wallace and a dash of Johnny Ball, before he broke all of our hearts by became a climate-change skeptic.

It's these early scenes, featuring an explosion of increasingly baffling practical effects, that lull you into a false sense of security but also feature some of Gondry's finest work. While the action in the 'real world' plays out, there's a secret room filled with hundreds of typists writing out the narrative and Colin's very thought processes in a huge conveyor belt system. There's the Pianocktail, an invention by Colin that allows the player to mechanically create a cocktail based on the tune they're playing. There's the incredible looking animated food that dances around their dinner plates as Colin and his friends sit and admire. There's a blatant disregard for crockery. There's also little man dressed as a mouse running around helping out from time to time. I think he's a pet. To be honest I didn't really understand that bit.

We should just drown ourselves now and spare one another the heartbreak.

Then there's the love story, brought about by Colin petulantly demanding "I should fall in love!" after becoming jealous of his friends' romantic dalliances. Immediately Colin meets Chloe (Audrey Tautou) and they begin a super-speedy romance that takes in crane operated cloud cars, eye-wateringly, bandy-legged dance routines and a stop-motion go-kart race to the altar.

It's an hour of cinematic crack. Just beautiful, intoxicating and completely batshit crazy. Then the bad thing happens. Chloe falls ill with the rarest of all afflictions, a water-lilly on the lung. The colour drains out of the world, the windows of Colin's flat become webbed and murky, the pianocktail is sold to cover medical bills. Colin has to... shock horror... get a job.

The real world comes knocking and it comes knocking hard. It's even brought its friends to the party too: financial worry, health problems, and the inevitable end of companionship. Also the party finishes abruptly because EVERYONE AT THE PARTY STARTS CRYING AND DIES.

This ride was nice but I'm just waiting for the inevitable moment when
you get sick and I can't afford to look after you.

Colin belongs to that rich cinematic tradition of 'romantic lead as barely tolerable man-child'. The functionally retarded Adam Sandler type who bumbles his way cluelessly into the object of his affection's heart. In the real world he'd probably be dosed up with Carbamazepine and under constant supervision in case he harmed himself or other people. Here he's allowed to roam the streets of Paris causing as much madcap mayhem as he likes without a single thought for standard safety regulations or his own bank balance.

And that's the point. He is totally set up for the fall. His clownish charm and hurdle free winning streak is intended to blind him to the brick wall of misery he's about to get thrown at face-first. There is a huge amount of contempt from author Vian and from Gondry towards their own protagonist. Colin doesn't deserve happiness, he's a fool.

During the London premiere last week, Audrey Tautou demanded that the audience should tell everyone that Mood Indigo is a romantic comedy, that way more people will come and see it. Obviously I have done the opposite of what she's said, and as much as it pains me to wrong Amelie, I also feel your own enjoyment definitely hinges on some preparedness.

Michel Gondry is certainly telling a story of love and translates the kinetic wonder of falling for the person you're meant to be with perfectly to the screen. It's also a story about how everything ends, often sooner than you think, and how misery and death are something you can't escape.

Despite a beautiful little flip-book animation drawn tirelessly by Tautou herself, the resolution offers no solace or redemption and even taints the joy of its magical first hour. Mood Indigo's real triumph is in being a romantic comedy that might just dissuade you from ever falling in love again.

Follow us on Twitter @The_Shiznit for more fun features, film reviews and occasional commentary on what the best type of crisps are.
We are using Patreon to cover our hosting fees. So please consider chucking a few digital pennies our way by clicking on this link. Thanks!

Share This