Mood Indigo (2014), Michel Gondry, Romain Duris & Audrey Tautou Q&A
Sacré bleu!! It’s been a while since I’ve trod the boards of my beloved BFI, their programming over the past couple of months hasn’t really connected to my personal cinematic peccadillos, so it was a pleasure to kick off the bank holiday weekend with a mildly anticipated preview screening of Michel Gondry’s new film Mood Indigo. This stuttering romantic ballad is based on the 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream by Boris Vian, an author I’m rather ashamed I’ve never heard of, and from what I gleaned from the post screening Q&A it seems that this is a novel which is something of a rite of passage for Parisian youth, as all movie medium attendees claimed to have read the book along with their friends back in their impressionable teenage years. In fact the 1947 book has previously been adapted twice, first in 1968 in France with the English title Spray of the Days, and again more recently in 2001 as a Japanese film with the title Chloe – it should be interesting to track these down in a compare and constrast mode, as although I quite liked the film I was faintly shocked to witness where this surreal romance finally decanted, cleaving to the books merciless dark denouncement. Romain Duris stars as Colin, a fairly wealthy and happy young man in modern Paris whose best friend Nicholas (Omar Sy) also happens to be his lawyer, chef and advisor, yet when all his friends begin to hook up with long-term partners he begins to feel that something is lacking in his comfortable life. Enter the spritely, twinkle eyed Chloe (Audrey Tautou) and the inevitable love at first sight swiftly blossoms into an abiding affection, but jeopardy lurks around the corner in the form of health scare for one of the two passionate paramours…..
So far so conventional, right? Star-crossed lovers facing an existential threat together, a challenge which should embolden and deepen their love for each other? How very original. Cheap sarcasm aside I’m happy to report that this is not the case for Mood Indigo as the film film leaps from the contraption charged mind of Michel Gondry, thus we are firmly embedded into the realm of his clockwork magical realist musings, with surreal flashes of character and drama, a playful sense of humour as the laws of physics and reality are shattered and reassembled in impressionist illusion, the very fabric universe shimmering with the emotions driven between Chloe and Colin. It’s a whirwind mechanical tour de force which is charming and exhausting in equal measure, many I think will find its whimsical rejection of reality a immediate turn-off, but if you’re in the mood as I was then then there is much to enjoy here, even if it does start to malfunction in its final desperate moments. It’s reminiscent of Gondry’s earlier The Science Of Sleep and the widely beloved Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, in fact it’s quite easy to group them as a romantic trilogy ameliorated through Gondry’s in-camera techniques, with just a dash more of Jan Svankmajer in the inventive ingredients.
If you’re hybrid minded then I think with reverence you could dissemble Gondry’s film style as a madcap contraption of Jacques Tati, Terry Gilliam and Jean Vigo, and its not so much that he’s thrown everything but the kitchen sink into this project as he’s spotted a kitchen sink shaped space and anthropomorphised said sink and set it stuttering around his gloriously chaotic set. It’s taken a few days to sink in so plunging deeper than the shallow waters of innovative techniques and the briskly frosted romance cooked by Tautou and Duris I think you could read as a meta-level treatise on evolving film form, from animation and stop frame shreds, from under and reverse cranked manipulation of time and cinematic space, frenzied production flourishes and delicatessen design. It’s quite a dizzying ride when detailing the first blooms of a blossom burdened romance, with Tautou and Duris sparking off each others galloping charm, but I must admit that my attention did start to wonder after an hour of the same whimsy before the very colour of the film slowly dilutes out of the picture, before a rather abrupt and gloomy zenith. I’m told this maps to the novels finale so you can’t fault Gondry for retaining sympathy to the source text (this was also an insistence of Vian’s estate when granting the film rights), but the tonal shift is jarring which closes the picture on a whimper rather than a bricolage bang.
A rather jocular Q&A followed the screening with Gondry, Duris and Tautou all in attendance, first impressions were of a scruffy trio decked out in jeans, shirts and as you Americans like to call them ‘sneakers’ – so much for French chic. I’m kidding of course as this was a very relaxed and spritely affair, Duris was quiet but Tautou is a tiny elfin firecracker (and she is tiny), swearing like a docker and repeatedly berating Gondry for his filming practices – sticking her 200 feet up in the air on a crane for the cloud car sequence, enduring the slow-motion marathon of the laborious stop-motion sequences. There is a beautiful moment in the film when Gondry cuts from the newly wedded couple to them submerged in water, still in their wedding dress and bridegroom outfits , suspended in the liquid as they still walk through the vestibule out to the shower of confetti and a new, rich life together (it’s in the trailer below at 1:45). Gondry explained his thought process which was when we are newly born we open our eyes and see the world for the first time with a sense of apprehension and wonder, and he yearned for a reproduction of that in a interesting visual way as the couple exited the church to their new life together – and that ladies and gentlemen is why he’s a true artist and genuinely visionary director who has managed to excuse the failures of his recent American Green Hornet shambles.
The Q&A also revealed that there are two cuts of the film, we saw the shorter 95 minute version which I assume has been prepared for foreign markets as a more palatable portion of Parisian whimsy, I’ll give it a year or so and track down the longer indigenous cut (125 minutes apparently) as it’s certainly a movie which provokes a little introspection, and some of the DIY filming techniques would be charming to revisit and query ‘how the heck did he do that’? Gondry also got the expected ‘what do you think of CGI?’ question which he must suffer repeatedly given his particular preference for in-camera tricky, but he shouldered the query well and explained that he has nothing against it, he has used in some pictures and some of the striking music videos he’s shot over the years, but he doesn’t feel that standing in front of a green screen is an environment that fully inspires his actors, nor does it yet fully convince an audience and risks throwing them out of his carefully conceived fantastical worlds – I couldn’t agree with him more. Overall then a solid recommendation for Gondry, Tautou or Duris aficionados which whilst not bringing anything particularly new to his palette Mood Indigo is ingenious and charming enough to pop down to the flicks to see, although I doubt it’ll get much distribution outside the major urban art-house aligned network;