Michel Gondry is one of the most idiosyncratic directors working today, with a style as unmistakable (even moreso perhaps) than Wes Anderson or Tim Burton. The first film of his that I saw was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I did not like much. His subsequent films (Science of Sleep, Be Kind, Rewind, The Green Hornet), which I liked more, have largely not been as well received.
I get this: There is an uncanny polish to ESotSM, a clear message, clearly delivered. It is, by all measures, a better film than the others. But it’s not so much Gondry’s message, in my opinion, as writer/producer Charlie Kaufman’s, whose fingerprints can be found on the grotesque Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation. (which I did not see after realizing it was by the same guys who did BJM and ESotSM).
This is important in understanding my take on Gondry’s latest film, Mood Indigo, because I prefer Gondry’s characteristic imperfections over what are generally considered better movies. You know, you don’t come to me looking for sympathetic opinions on Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese films, whatever their technical merits. (Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever spelled Scorsese’s name right up until now.)
Meanwhile, there’s a sort of childish romanticism to Gondry that appeals to me, and Mood Indigo is chock full of it. Not that it’s all happy. Oh, no, not at all: The source material is a French (?) novel from the ‘40s (?) called Froth on the Daydream. (Yeah, you can look it up if you want to know for sure. What am I? Google?)
The basic outline is simple enough: Wealthy and creative Colin meets quirky and beautiful Chloe and the two hit it off in their quirky, creative and wealthily beautiful way. But their happily-ever-after is clouded by Chloe contracting a disease (a water-lily on the lung) for which the only treatment is to be surrounded by flowers.
Their happy-go-lucky existence is slowly destroyed by the disease and, since this is Gondry, the beautifully creative ways their happiness expressed itself in their actual physical existence become equally dark and oppressive as their situation worsens.
With the exception of The Green Hornet, which is more-or-less bound by genre conventions, one never really knows how Gondry’s films will end. The Boy and I were both taken aback by the ending here which is…well, it’s just not what we expected. I suspect it will turn many people off.
Great characters: Besides Colin and Chloe, there is Colin’s pal Chick, who is obsessed (to the point of financial ruin) with the writings (and other artifacts) of one Jean-Sol Partre. (It’s somehow reassuring to realize that Marxist Existentialism was being roundly mocked even at its height.) Chick’s obsession is so thorough that he squanders his opportunities to marry the beautiful Alise.
The other main character is Colin’s man-servant, who is more a chef/major-domo as well as a sidekick (except when Colin is being his sidekick). The faithful Nicolas must be thrown out by a well-meaning Colin, so dedicated is he to his friend’s well-being.
Everyone focuses on Gondry’s whimsy but as you, Dear Reader, may know, I consider all art to be artifice, so to me the whimsy is as natural as a superhero movie or a romantic-comedy or any straight-up drama, even when they try so hard to be “realistic” they remove all dramatic interest. The main thing is that the characters are “real”, and so we care what happens to them. If they seem “extreme” or if the physics of their world don’t seem to match ours doesn’t really matter. (At least not to me. Some folks can’t relate, or don’t care to.)
The Boy and I really liked it. We might have even loved it, though it is in some (narrative) ways a difficult film to say you “loved”.
Romain Durais, who’s kind of the French actor of the year for us (Chinese Puzzle, Populaire) plays Colin. Perennial Casa ‘strom favorite Audrey Tatou (Chinese Puzzle, Priceless) is Chloe. Gad Elmaleh (Priceless, The Valet) is Chick. Omar Sy (The Intouchables, and a small part in X-Men: Days of Future Past) is Nicolas.
If you’re a Gondry fan, you’ll probably like this. If you’re not, you probably won’t. Either way, you won’t forget it.