Mood Indigo

Movie Information

The Story: The fanciful — and doomed — romance of a wealthy young man and the girl he falls for.  The Lowdown: There is more pure invention in the first five minutes of Mood Indigo than in just about all the other films this year put together. That's both its magical greatness and why some viewers will find it altogether too much. For those up to it, though, it's wonderful.
Score:

Genre: Romantic Comedy Tragedy Fantasy
Director: Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
Starring: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy, Aïssa Maïga, Charlotte Le Bon
Rated: NR

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At a time when so much filmmaking is marked by rampant laziness, it’s both refreshing and a little daunting to encounter a film of such nonstop invention and creativity as Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo. Some may find the film perplexing in its fantasy. Others may find the constant invention exhausting. In the latter regard, I freely confess that my initial viewing of Mood Indigo was … startling, to put it mildly. The first five minutes just never slowed down, to the point that it seemed like overkill. (Some will doubtless say that it is overkill.) But I quickly realized that the only way to approach the film was just to surrender to it and go with the flow. Immediately after that first viewing — but before tackling the whole thing a second time — I took a second look at the beginning and its fast-paced flood of fantasticated images (all set to Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train”). Having a feel for the whole movie and knowing where it was going, the opening felt just right on a second viewing — neither exhausting, nor overkill.

 

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Gondry’s film is an adaptation of Boris Vian’s 1947 novel L’Écume des jours (Froth on the Daydream), which may account for the fact that while three Duke Ellington recordings appear in the film, “Mood Indigo” does not. (This may also be due to cutting, since I understand the U.S. version is considerably shortened from the French original.) Regardless, the title Mood Indigo ultimately suits the tone of the movie. While the film never loses its sense of invention, what starts — or seems to start — as quirky, hyperstylized fantasy becomes increasingly dark as the film progresses. This is deceptive, too, because the undercurrent of darkness is there all along, but the characters — and to some degree the audience — don’t see it. And while I’ve described the film as comedy-tragedy, the ending is more bittersweet and weirdly celebratory than tragic. While, yes, the film grows very dark — so dark that the color is slowly drained from the film — I would never call it depressing.

 

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The film starts with a quote from Boris Vian announcing, “This story is completely true, since I made it up from beginning to end.” But what is the story? Well, stripped of most things that make Mood Indigo a breathlessly mesmerizing film, the story is pretty simple and — Gondry suggests in the way it’s pieced together from bits of a manuscript being written by lots of scribes with constantly moving typewriters on a kind of assembly line — more universal than it might seem. Colin (Romain Duris) is a comfortably-off young man, living in a marvelous set of apartments apparently joined by a train car. He has a personal chef, Nicolas (Omar Sy), who prepares fantastic meals with the help of a strangely interactive TV chef (Alain Chabat) and a hyperintelligent mouse (Sacha Bourdo) of indeterminate gender. (The mouse, in fact, is one of the film’s most likable characters.) He has a good friend, Chick (Gad Elmaleh), and he has a good time inventing strange Rube Goldberg inventions (the piano cocktail being his latest). His world is so perfect that he can even play the sunbeams coming through the windows like an upright bass .

 

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But something is missing — a love life. That presents itself at a party where he meets Chloé (Audrey), whom, after a fantasy courtship only Gondry would attempt (and pull off), he marries. But on their honeymoon, she contracts a strange ailment. How strange? Well, she’s growing a water lily in her lung. The treatment, according to a very strange doctor (Gondry himself), involves some very odd pills (involving golden carrots and mechanical rabbits) and surrounding Chloé with flowers. Between the expense of these increasingly weird treatments and supporting Chick’s self-destructive obsession with the writer-philosopher Jean-Sol Partre (Philippe Torreton) — a pipe-smoking egghead and cult figure based (unsubtly) on Vian’s friend, Jean-Paul Sartre — Colin soon finds his money gone and his world darkening, even as Chloé gets no better.

 

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That almost certainly sounds more grim than the film is — though, make no mistake, Mood Indigo is not simply a lot of fun. The sadness that hovers over the film and finally closes in on it is very real. But — and this is key — Gondry never loses sight of the strange magic that holds his film together. It’s all surreal and fanciful. One part Max Fleischer “rubber-hose” style animation to one part René Magritte — with a shot of Dadaism and a dash of jazz — might be a fair summation of the recipe. But it’s all also pure Gondry at his most creative. It may, in fact, be his best film to date. Certainly, it’s his most breathtakingly creative one — and one of the year’s best films. (Plus, it explains how Internet searches actually work.) But it definitely won’t be to everyone’s liking. Then again, it doesn’t try to be — and why should it? Not Rated but contains adult themes and subtitles.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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37 thoughts on “Mood Indigo

  1. Edwin Arnaudin

    How do you rank Godry’s features? I’ve yet to see Human Nature, The Green Hornet, or his Tokyo! segment (the latter two are on their way to me from the library), but I’d go:

    1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    2. Mood Indigo
    3. The Science of Sleep
    4. Be Kind Rewind
    n/a. The We and the I

    The DVD anthology of his music videos is also worth checking out…if you can handle the music.

    • Me

      Human Nature is kind of meh, but you can see the seeds of what would become some of his trademarks and the Green Hornet from what ive seen on tv you can hardly even tell its a Gondry film, except for a few things.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Tricky, especially since I really don’t enjoy Eternal Sunshine that much. I guess I’d go with:

    1. Mood Indigo
    2. Be Kind Rewind
    3. The Science of Sleep
    4. Eternal Sunshine
    5, Tokyo!
    6. The Green Hornet
    7. Human Nature (I really disliked this.)

  3. Edwin Arnaudin

    This isn’t the only Tautou/Duris film to play art houses this summer. Chinese Puzzle, the follow-up to L’Auberge Espagnole (which you’ve reviewed here) and Russian Dolls (can’t find a review; have you seen it?), is also out.

    Still, 2014 remains The Year of the Swinton.

  4. Ken Hanke

    To be honest, I barely remember L’Auberge Espagnole (except that it was upstairs at the Fine Arts and so packed I sat up next to the projection booth) and I’ve not heard of Russian Dolls.

  5. Edwin Arnaudin

    Sarah likes that series more than I do, but a lot of that’s because she saw L’Auberge Espagnole shortly after a semester abroad in Spain.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I remember thinking it was better than similar US movies, but not much more has stuck with me.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I guess it was mine, too, but I wouldn’t have remembered they were in it if your hadn’t told me.

  8. Edwin Arnaudin

    What are your favorite Gondry details this go-round? You almost have to pick a Top 20 to be fair.

    For me, ones that stand out include the mouse garden, the gigantic shadows, and Chloé’s felt x-ray.

  9. Ken Hanke

    The typewriters, train car hallway, the whole Jean-Sol Partre cult setting, the machine that makes Chloe’s pills, the doorbell from hell. This could go on.

  10. Edwin Arnaudin

    I forgot about the ice rink DJ’s record dictating the skaters’ direction…and that the DJ has a bird head, which is perfectly normal.

  11. Me

    Did you ever see his last film Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? Between this, God Help the Girl, and Grand Budapest Hotel, I think this might be the year of the twee films.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      Naturally, I’m very much looking forward to God Help the Girl.

  12. Ken Hanke

    You are almost certainly unaware of this, but Mr. Arnaudin and I have vowed to do physical harm to the next person who used that hateful, stupid, dismissive word “twee” to describe a movie…

  13. Edwin Arnaudin

    I’d been looking for an opportunity to break in my new pair of brass knuckles.

  14. Edwin Arnaudin

    Say “quirky” or “stylized” or “heavily detailed.” Those descriptors actually mean something. The “t” word is such a broad, empty term that it winds up meaning next to nothing.

  15. Edwin Arnaudin

    It’s been used so often that it’s taken on a vague meaning, but those who wield it would be best to go an extra step or two.

  16. Ken Hanke

    I am increasingly curious as to whether anyone has seen this, though I realize it’s hard for movies to compete with the greased pig contests at the State Fair this weekend.

  17. Mr.Orpheus

    Oh yes, this was fairly brilliant, wondrous and altogether enthralling. I’m not entirely sure that I managed to take in the entire thing in a satisfactory way (I doubt if such is possible in just a single viewing), but that blinding swirl of invention is one of the film’s most engaging qualities. I am fairly anxious to see the French cut if it ever makes it way over here, although this cut’s relative brevity keeps everything moving so vigorously that I’m not sure an additional 30 minutes would be a boon or an unnecessary weight.

    And some of us perfectly capable of balancing simultaneous loves of French art films and porcine sport, thank you very much.

  18. Ken Hanke

    I did not mean to suggest that some mightn’t be able to appreciate this movie and greased piggies, only that the latter attraction may siphon off part of the audience.

    Speaking of which, were you the bulk of the audience?

    I’ve read one piece by someone who’s seen both cuts and he preferred the shorter version. This doesn’t mean I don’t hope to find out for myself.

  19. Mr.Orpheus

    I’d say there around ten of us in attendance at the 4:35 show today. I’m not sure if that’s up to expectations or not, but it was somewhat disappointing in light of the fact that the 2:30 showing of THE ONE I LOVE had an audience of at least twice that size. Still, everyone there seemed to enjoy Mr. Gondry’s film once it got going, even if some ire was raised by the admittedly curious lack of house lights and trailers before the movie.

  20. Pat D

    Hanke is spot on about the need to “surrender to it.” I felt the exact same. It was difficult to keep up visually and with the subtitles.

    Loved the first 45 minutes. I started actually fighting sleep after that. I rarely do this. Then I realized that I did the same for ‘Eternal Spotlight’. Enjoyed the quirkiness of the film.
    Really off topic, but, I have a question for Ken (horror expert right?) about a 60’s horror/sci-fi film I saw in the late 70’s on a program in South Florida. I believe it was Creature Features. Well, I was very young and for some reason, this program came on during the day in South Florida. I remember seeing an opening title for a sci-fi/horror film with a river with lava and/or blood with body parts floating in it. Any idea of the title? This has bugged me for years.

  21. Ken Hanke

    While that sounds vaguely familiar, I can’t peg it. I suppose you have no other details? “Creature Feature” up where I was was always a Sat. afternoon thing hosted by a one-eyed disc jockey named Dick Bennick under the name of Dr. Paul Bearer. It was from WTOG Channel 44 out of Tampa/St. Pete. I don’t know how far south that traveled.

    • Pat D

      Shot in the dark. It was Ft. Lauderdale. Wish I could give more. There were a few sci-fi/horror movies when I was young that certain scenes left a lasting impression. I have found the titles to match most of those hazy memories (‘A thief in the Night’ ‘Curse of the Swamp Creature’) but not this one. It’s funny seeing how bad those movies were in retrospect.

        • Pat D

          Color. I recall the vividness of the reds. I recall a wasteland, with pools of lava and/or blood with the random body part popping up. Memory is tricky, especially being under 10.

          • Ken Hanke

            Well, I have passed your description to friends who have — believe it or not — watched even more crap horror pictures than I have. We shall see what these poor misbegotten souls have to say… if anything.

  22. Ken Hanke

    Pat D., it has been suggested that your youthful memory may be turning sludge into lava, since this otherwise seems to describe the opening credits of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971).

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