The excessive inventiveness marking director Michel Gondry’s earlier films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), The Science of Sleep (2006), and Be Kind Rewind (2008) is once again presented in his latest film escapade, Mood Indigo, but this time with even more ambition. Holding French novelist Boris Vian’s 1947 surrealist L’Écume des Jours (translated as Froth on the Daydream) as the film’s founding narrative, Gondry and co-writer Luc Bossi already had a wealth of material to draw from. But the manner in which they rendered the original text could not be more accurate—and therefore, utterly wild—in its hyper-illogical construction of an imaginary Paris and reflection on a blossoming love between two individuals.
When the fumbling Colin (Romain Duris) seeks a lover amid his circle of friends, which includes his cook Nicolas and long-time admirer of cult philosophy Chick, he finds the petite Chloé (Audrey Tautou) irresistibly suitable. Time passes quickly between the two—the event of marriage here staged in an animated stop-motion sequence as a tongue-in-cheek “race-to-the-altar” in small cardboard vehicles—and Chloé eventually falls terminally ill, suffering from a “lily on the lung” contracted on their honeymoon. The events that soon unfold become a blatant manifestation of surrealist sentiment, allowing a colorful exchange between a visceral reality and subconscious impressions. For Gondry here reveals himself as he always has: as a kid merely playing with materials at his disposal, creating and inhabiting a fabricated world replete with shoes that tie themselves, doorbell-roaches scampering along walls, and shadows moving independently of the objects generating them.
The sensitivity brought to the relationship between Colin and Chloé is cleverly boiled down to a thematic string involving habitation of all kinds. Gondry draws an affiliation between Colin’s apartment and Chloé’s disintegrating physical state as she nears death. Walls attain a life of their own, pushing inward upon themselves week by week, and daylight actively tries to eek its way through window panes covered in some amorphous, sinewy organ. In one scene, Colin even wrestles with one stubborn strand of daylight that continually tries to touch Chloé’s head. The theme of habitation is pushed further onto things that seem opaque at first glance, but upon another, become translucent. At one turn, there is the all-windows limousine they take from the church to their honeymoon destination. At the next, Chloé’s chest X-ray exam—one of Gondry’s impressive special effects involving an illuminated ribcage that allows us to see a beating cloth heart inside. All this is to say that perhaps Gondry more than wants to gift us with the notion that love is a universal agent in opening up individuals once they choose to live within it.
For all its trompe l’oeil—including matte projections, stop-motion animation, and in-camera editing tricks—Gondry, cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne, and production designer Stéphane Rosenbaum have surely produced radical visual scenarios. Though, if the film seems overwhelming at points, it is only a testament to Michel Gondry’s limitless artistic capacity, and more importantly perhaps, his heralding the potential of cinema.