Mood Indigo is a partial return to form for the tirelessly creative French director Michel Gondry, albeit one with some rather large caveats. The surreal, densely-packed opus combines the DIY aesthetic of his Be Kind Rewind with the darker, more psychological tone of his sublime Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and, thankfully, nothing at all of The Green Hornet).
Based on cult French novel L’Ecume Des Jours (roughly translated as Froth on the Daydream), it follows a beautiful, prosperous young couple, Colin and Chloé, as they traverse an increasingly treacherous path through life, from the blissful early days of love through to illness and destitution.
It’s a visual cacophony, with Gondry choosing the difficult path at every turn: people don’t just shake hands, their entire wrists rotate; the door bell doesn’t just ring, it scuttles across the wall until it’s smashed into a multitude of smaller doorbells. Stylistically, it harks back to the director’s earliest work, not least his first collaboration with Bjork on the Human Behaviour music video, combining stop-motion animation – food spiralling across tables, eels popping out of taps – with live action.
An implicit theme is storytelling itself, with a suggestion that the surreal elements are an imagined escape from the more banal and cruel elements of everyday life. It’s often charming to the point of twee – at least to begin with – but brilliant turns from Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris as the lovers ensure it never becomes grating.
It is, though, rather tiring. The relentless visual flourishes eventually suffer from diminishing returns, and have the unwanted side-effect of alienating you from the characters. Chloé’s descent into a cancer-like illness caused by a lily growing inside her lung, for instance, doesn’t elicit the emotional response it deserves.
It’s the kind of film that craves to be rewatched, and then rewatched again. It’s so richly textured it will doubtless pay dividends to those willing to invest. It falls short, however, of being the masterpiece it sometimes threatens to be.
First published in City A.M.