Michel Gondry is nothing if not unpredictable. This is the guy who directed Jim Carrey as a romantic lead & expressed Noam Chomsky in animated form. In viewing his adaptation of Boris Vian’s surreal 1947 novel L’Écume des jours, could anyone know what to expect? The surface of Mood Indigo therefore seems somewhat conventional; a romantic comedy with two attractive young leads (and their amusing friends), set in Paris, one cinema’s most-frequented cities. There is even (semi-spoiler) a plot point at the heart of this film that takes inspiration from Arthur Hiller’s Love Story, a touchpoint for the genre.
However it does not take long to appreciate that Mood Indigo is love gone Gondry. The introduction and courtship of rich bachelor Colin (Romain Duris) and Chloe (Audrey Tatou) is expressed in a euphoric whirlwind of colour, dialogue, food, music and dance, in the visual style of PES’ Fresh Guacamole. Many of these elements are found in Colin’s delightfully useless invention, the pianocktail, that makes different drinks depending on the tune you play; it is a feature of Vian’s book but could easily have come from Gondry’s idiosyncratic mind. Other highlights of a blissfully happy first half are a whole party extending stilt-like legs for a dance, and our central couple flying around Paris on a cloud that is part metaphor, part theme park ride.
One of the film’s greatest qualities is the representation of love and emotion through the movement of the narrative. It is only when events take a turn for the worse that we realise the value and joy of the opening; the colour is literally drained from the picture as the narrative progresses. It is a feat Gondry achieved in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and repeats here; to associate our experience with that of the characters to such an extent that we feel their loves and heartaches as our own.
As the story descends to dingier narrative and visual territory it gains substance but does lose much of its charm, and in truth never recaptures the paradise of the opening. The ending is rather unfulfilling too, although this is again from the source material. Duris is a solid, reassuring presence, but the peaks of the film invariably involve Tatou or Omar Sy as Colin’s cook and sidekick – both actors have smiles that look wonderful on screen. This may be a rare occasion where a translated title is more apt than the original – Mood Indigo is cinema used to reflect emotion, and how difficult it can be to capture once gone.