Remember how much fun it was watching Amélie with that crush you had in your freshman French class? Gee, you connected on so much. She wore pencil skirts and collected porcelain with bird designs/he wore cardigans and pretended he saw the entirety of Kieslowki’s The Decalogues. It was so cute. S/he wasn’t one of those average weird kids you constructed an affinity with: they were quirkettes (trademark), and they were so committed to authenticity they could drink Bud Heavies and Chartreuse in the same chase. D’awwwwwwww.
Before I begin my tirade on Mood Indigo, I want to state that Michel Gondry is a master cinematographer and a master of film, in that he’s created a trademark aesthetic you can’t confuse with any other director. That being said, it kind of feels like he’s riding on his laurels at this point.
Mood Indigo is based on Boris Vian’s novel L’Écume des Jours (written in the 1940s) and loosely follows its narrative. Colin (Romain Duris) is a fancy-free modern dandy living in the elaborate Gondry staging of a weirdly elaborate train car in Paris, far above the city, with his charismatic servant Nicolas (Omar Sy, racist?) and aloof friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh), who intermittently pops in. After learning Chick is intertwined with Nicolas’s niece, Colin feels compelled to submerge himself in the pool of trust-fund brats endeared of the idea of love and happily happens upon Chloe (Audrey Tautou). The ensuing hour and fifteen minutes is a laughably predictable arc of riches to rags with static characters and boring developments placed within Gondry’s incredible mise-en-scène.
In one regard, it makes sense Gondry would go to this beat format of narrative from the celebrated French novel. He fetishizes the past and presents an understanding of the modern world via meta strings and bells. You’re pressed to find another director who’s created such a visually distinctive style as Gondry: here, a basic, realistic understanding of the world is rent asunder by television cooks reaching through the screen to help with spices, flowers blooming in ribcages, and an odd man-mouse flitting through the film, acting kind of in the place of an observer (or maybe just a weird dude in a mouse costume flitting through the film). Gondry wants to translate the work of an old favorite into his vision, but the effect feels like “Riches to Rags” with a keen eye for color and a lot of unsettling animation.
Removed from the magical surrealist elements of Gondry and the author’s original intention, Mood Indigo is a predictable story I can only imagine was intended for college kids beginning to realize there are other people who care about The Decemberists. You see everything, and you know where it’s going, but Gondry is so incredible in the way he constructs a film it’s almost excusable. Tracking cam cloud car? Yeah! Animate plates of food writhing to and fro? Sure! Various shades of indigo manifesting as the film progresses? Naturally. Michel Gondry is one of the most accomplished cinematographers today; he’ll become one of the most established directors when he figures out how to incorporate narrative into the astounding worlds he’s capable of creating.
Notice I haven’t discussed the plot? It’s because there isn’t one. What do you think is going to happen when there’s a freewheeling rich kid faced with life? It’s a story that entertained 50 years ago, but Gondry’s saving grace is his ability to visually distract the audience from the fact this is a story close to a century old. He’s an established name in the film world for a reason, but he’s still yet to establish himself as a storyteller.