Mood Indigo (2013)

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Michel Gondry is out of control in Mood Indigo. And that is both a good and a bad thing. It does feel against my every natural inclination to criticise Gondry and his work. Originality and imagination of this magnitude is such a rare and precious gift in a world so consistently battered down by cynicism. Yet, this man has been an unwavering champion to the cause and that’s something that deserves to be upheld and to be celebrated: his films possess startling beauty and romanticism of the purest sense.

In Gondry’s universe, where logic is the enemy of fantasy, the director is free to express what our hearts so desperately yearn to reveal but out feeble mortal bodies cannot hope to do. Women may be romanced from cloud buggies dangling from cranes as a man offers her this world and everything in it. The way time seems to slow down in a pulse of adrenaline is imagined as a newly-wed couple suspended in an ocean. And we’re given the chance to really get down to the vibes of Duke Ellington thanks to the Biglemoi, a dance where legs turn to rubber cords. In that light, Gondry would appear the ideal candidate to capture the tragic love between Colin and Chloe, a woman infected by a blooming flower nestled between her lungs. There’s so much in this movie to delight that it’s a veritable candy store of tricks and treats.

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Which leads to one major problem: there may exist a thing as too much imagination and I think we may have just discovered it. Gondry’s own imagination turns on its master and poses a constant threat of swallowing Mood Indigo‘s story whole, as the quirky asides and inventions begin to pour out of almost every crack of every scene. The opening scenes of the movie are frenetic in a way that recalls Baz Luhrmann’s energy, something which is in danger of all but completely overwhelming the viewer to the point of total alienation if prolonged for too long. But Gondry seems to struggle more here than Luhrmann to settle into the emotional core of his story, meaning by the time Chloe is struck down by her mysterious illness, we’re still struggling to find our place in his world and bond with his characters.

In fact, it takes almost an entire half of Mood Indigo for the pace to slow down enough that our focus can shift from the bright distractions of stop motion animation to the real story at hand. At which point it unfortunately feels a little too late to care. Despite the natural charms of its leads Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou, the potential for a deeply affecting ending as Colin’s finances and the colour of his world drain from his life in his effort to save his love are dashed. We end up watching the closing scenes as if from a distant shore. Honestly, it’s extremely telling that I didn’t even cry a little bit in this film, considering I can barely make it through a Pixar movie without an emotional breakdown.

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I have a feeling this all comes down to the fact that this is Gondry’s first non-English feature for over seven years; it’s as if he’s just overindulged in the sudden freedom his home country has granted him. It’s funny, while so many filmmakers can feel strangled by the American film industry, it might be that Gondry actually benefits from the kind of regulation you get dancing along the outside barriers of Hollywood, as exemplified in his (best?) work Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Or hopefully, the overindulgence of Mood Indigo left Gondry feeling a little stuffed and he’ll go on one of those post-Christmas diets for his next feature. Quick, somebody pass him the Pepto-Bismol.

Director: Michel Gondry
Stars: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh
Runtime: 131 min
Country: France, Belgium

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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