One of the many little toys Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris get to play with in Michel Gondry's "Mood Indigo" is some kind of box car. Credit: Drafthouse Films
'Mood Indigo' Director: Michel Gondry Stars: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou Rating: NR 3 (out of 5) Globes
It’s debatable that Michel Gondry — or anyone, for that matter — has ever been as hopped up on whimsy as he is when “Mood Indigo” starts. Sketching the morning duties of 30something rich kid Colin (Romain Duris), his latest begins like “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” on amphetamines laced with all the sugar in the world. Quick cuts dash us from one impossible, too-cute sight to another, including an adorable human-sized mouse with a giant pair of scissors. It’s paced at the speed of one of his musical videos, only there’s still an hour-and-a-half left. It feels like self-parody.
Or perhaps it's self-critique. Some of the images (but no means all, not even close) come right from the book Gondry’s adapting, Boris Vian’s 1947 French favorite “Froth on the Daydream” (presumably a bad English translation). But so does the shocking direction the film, and the tone, winds up taking — one that calls into question living the daydream lifestyle in the first place.
Colin takes time from his usual do-little existence — which includes eating meals prepared by his black servant/friend (Omar Sy) and knocking back drinks made by his “pianocktail” (a piano that makes cocktails, natch) — to fall for Chloe (Audrey Tautou). The two skate at a rink to songs spun by a bird DJ and ride around in a car made of plastic clouds. (As usual with Gondry, all the effects are practical, not digital.) The night of their wedding, she unknowingly swallows a water lily, which takes root in her lung and starts to kill her. The only remedy? Surrounding her with flowers.
Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou and Omar Sy are seen in "Mood Indigo"'s happier times. Credit: Drafthouse Films
Thing is, this is no joke. The reality of this situation — such that realism can be applied to someone suffering from a lily in the lung — starts to creep in, and little by little the quirkiness starts to feel less freewheeling, becoming not just sad but actively menacing. The loud colors start to drain from the picture, and what seemed a perhaps busy nightmare of pure joy has turned into an actual nightmare with no end. Whimsy, the film seems to be saying, kills.
The possible auto-critique may be shocking, but the play between light and dark isn’t. Gondry has always worked both extremes of the emotional spectrum — not just in the frankly honest (but also eccentrically busy) “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but in music videos, where the fantasies onscreen tend to be revealed as tragically impossible or borne out of anxiety and pain. It wouldn’t be surprising if Vian’s book was the text that helped form Gondry’s sensibility. The material fits him like a glove, even if it ultimately reminds you that he’s at his best when collaborating with people — Charlie Kaufman, the inhabitants of Brooklyn in "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" — that coax him out of his shell.