Mood Indigo isn’t a commentary on our society, nor is it the feel-good film of the summer. Michel Gondry’s latest endeavor reads like a twisted storybook, weaving realistic tropes with fantastic visions of both the intensely light and the intensely dark. In fact, it opens with a Boris Vianauthor of L'Écume des Jours, quote the book on which the movie is based. The quote is translated as “the story is entirely true, because I imagined it from one end to the other,” which is exactly how the film relates to the audience. The world in which Mood Indigo takes place is imaginative to the point of unbelievability, but immersive to the point where that doesn’t matter.
If you're unfamiliar with Gondry's work, he's worked with artists, such as Björk, to bring similarly imaginative "other world" projects to life.
The story that takes place in this snow-globe world follows a small group of friends. The protagonist, Colin (Romain Duris), lives comfortably with his cook/mentor/lawyer, Nicolas, in a very Jetsons-meets-Magical Realism apartment. Colin quickly becomes obsessed with the idea of finding a girlfriend, as Nicolas (Omar Sy) and his best friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) have; Colin becomes Romeo-esque in that he is obsessed with love or “the perfect girl”, but doesn't think about it more deeply than that.
Enter Chloé (Audrey Tautou). They instantly fall for each other, despite Colin’s clumsy antics, and so begins their sickeningly cute love story. Everything about these characters (including their four friends) is incredibly childlike: emotions are grand and, for the first half of the film, accented with an optimistic twist. Shortly after Chloé and Colin’s wedding, Chloé falls ill with an impossibly strange cancer-like water lily growing in her right lung.
From this point onward, the film takes a devastatingly dark spiral downward. The bright Technicolor of their lives before the illness becomes corrupt and musty. For these quasi-children, reality comes crashing in on their play-world in a highly unrealistic way.
If this film comments on anything at all, it would be that everything must come to an end or that nothing is perfect enough to last. From a feminist standpoint, the problematic original viewpoint of Colin is much of what we are still encountering in romantic comedies today: women are a reward to be attained and the ideal woman is pure without fault.
However, Tatou’s Chloé introduces some much needed leveling to Colin’s bumbling-Romeo archetype and equalizes their relationship to something that I could agree with. This film operates under a juvenile lens and directly adapts a novel that was written during a time of heightened gender roles, which would explain Colin’s dated romantic views. It would be refreshing to see a slightly more 21st-century approach to Chloé’s characterization, but it is clear that Vian’s “imagining from one end to the other” is incredibly present - the characters seem to appear from his brain without much explanation or reason.
Apart from this issue, which would be difficult to tackle considering the original text hails from 1947, the film is visually stunning. Each movement is carefully choreographed while still maintaining an air of silliness, as if watching a live-action cartoon. Amazingly, each of the visual effects was created without using CGI, meaning that they are all handmade. Go see this film if simply just to witness the intricately created and magical world of Mood Indigo.
Mood Indigo tugs at the heart strings of the Saturday-morning cartoon viewer with an undeniably Surrealist darkness. Though not a film that preaches female empowerment, it is a roller coaster of its own that leaves you feeling like you’ve stepped through the TV screen into a world of make-believe. Catch it in NYC and LA theaters, opening on Friday, July 18th!
All images via Drafthouse Films