The well-to-do, Duke Ellington obsessed Colin (Romain Duris) and charming Chloe (Audrey Tautou) meet at a party, fall in love and begin an idyllic [if unconventional] marriage, surrounded by friends Alise (Alisaa Maiga) and writer/thinker Jean-Sol Partre obsessed Chick (Gad Elmaleh) - plus Colin's ever inventive house-man and cook, Nicolas (Omar Sy). But then Chloe begins to suffer from a strange illness: a water lily begins to grow in her lungs. Colin is forced to spend all his money in an attempt to cure her, as the world around them begins to fall apart. [Editor's note: the version reviewed was subsequently cut by over 30 minutes for release.]
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If the multi-talented French writer, jazz trumpeter, actor, poet and engineer Boris Vian were alive today (he died in 1959) he would undoubtedly applaud Michel Gondry's extraordinary, complex, surreal adaptation of his novel, L'écume des jours. Filled with visually arresting invention in virtually every frame, the film draws us into its bizarre, surreal world with humour and zest.
It's a terrific example of cinema doing what the written word can't manage - the old picture being worth 1,000 words ... or more if it's moving. But it does rely on Vian's imagination to start with. Highly regarded as one of France's post war creative leaders, he was in his 20s when he wrote the book, and it deals with characters around his age group.
The era-specific references within this multi-layered work - such as Duke Ellington, the Jean-Sol Partre character modelled satirically on existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (who was 15 years older than Vian and who ran off with Vian's wife), post-war concerns about authoritarian governments and industrialisation squashing human individuality - are all present, but in such harmony with the cinematic language as to be absorbed in it.
The inventiveness of ideas has urged the filmmakers on to inventiveness in technique and execution; animated food, elongated legs for unusual dance sequences, machines that defy reality and some high voltage farce all help to not only keep interest and tension high, but a sense of marvel and wonder. (You'll have to bid very high to outbid me at the auction for the piano that mixes pianocktails in response to the tune being played.)
But once the story moves into its dramatic third act and grows darker, so do the animations and quirks. It is only then that we begin to realise the fatalistic notions that are at work beneath the surface, where sweet romance is suffocated by the inner, undeniable forces of nature.
Romain Duris is nuanced and engaging as the ultra romantic Colin and Audrey Tautou is at her charming, vulnerable best as Chloe, while Gad Elmaleh delivers a beautifully balanced characterisation as Chick, whose obsession with Partre is parodied mercilessly. Omar Sy (of The Intouchables fame) shows his innate and subtle comic skills, and Alissa Magia is lovely as the sympathetic Aisse.
Defying labels and inviting comparisons with no other films, it is a fusion of several genres, becoming its own unique thing. Any attempt to put it into some sort of cinematic box would have to be simplistic and meaningless.
I suspect that those who embrace the film's bravura style will want to see it again, partly to revel in all the detail and partly to re-engage with this unique universe as it shows with such brio a world whose blooming flowers wither and die. I certainly will.
Review by Louise Keller:
The beating heart of creativity explodes onscreen in Michel Gondry's wondrously bizarre film Mood Indigo, whose innovative reality and bricolage beautifully elevates the narrative in which the waterlily in Audrey Tautou's lung can only be treated by fresh flowers. Adapted from Boris Vian's 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream which has inspired two other films and an opera, Gondry's visual originality coupled with an exquisite sense of the fantastic is an inspiration in itself.
There is so much to absorb in the opening scenes, as the film's reality is described that it is difficult not to be overwhelmed. An eel slithers its way through the kitchen tap, food vibrates and animates, a miniature man-mouse scurries with purpose while a helpful hand located in the back of the fridge passes a bottle of champagne as required. The pianocktail, a dream of an invention keeps glasses filled when played, relying on minor chords for a taste of nostalgia or the optimistic, should the chords modulate to major. Tables on roller blades, shoes that make their way down the stairs ahead if you're running late and a schedule in the form of a Rubics cube are just some of the visual delights ahead.
This dense and eye-bogging reality forms the rich surroundings for the central love story involving the wealthy, handsome Colin (Romain Duris) who falls hopelessly in love with the irresistible Chloé (Audrey Tautou). Their meeting and courtship is funny, clumsy and romantic and the scene in which they are transported by a swan-like capsule initially by crane high into the air (with a spectacular birds-eye view over Paris) is delightful. Duris and Tautou are perfectly cast, Tautou especially appealing and vulnerable, and beautiful from every angle.
Also in the picture (and both outstanding) are Gad Elmaleh as Chick, whose obsession with philosopher and author Jean-Sol Partre (a twist on Jean-Paul Sartre) and buying his books has left him broke and Omar Sy (The Intouchables) as Nicolas, Colin's jovial manservant.
The frothy nature of the narrative turns soulful when the water lily that slips into Chloé's partially open mouth grabs hold and starts to grow. The fresh flowers required for treatment quickly wilt and the film (amid all kinds of other bizarre occurrences) morphs into black and white for the grand finale. (Look out for the back-to-front musical clefs that form the dual keys to the safe, whose initially robust contents dwindle - like the wilted flowers.)
I like the idea that it is things, not people that change and also the concept that life's spaces become smaller over time. There is much to ponder over in this film that sits off the reality chart, allowing the imagination to soar and take flight through Gondry's fabulous vision. This is not a film for everyone, but if your imagination is getting stale and needs polishing, Mood Indigo will leave it bright and shiny.
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MOOD INDIGO (MA15+)
L'écume des jours
CAST: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy, Alissa Maiga, Charlotte Lebon, Sacha Bourdo
PRODUCER: Luc Bossi
DIRECTOR: Michel Gondry
SCRIPT: Michel Gondry, Luc Bossi (novel Froth on the Daydream by Boris Vian)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christoph Beaucarne
EDITOR: Marie-Charlotte Moreau
MUSIC: Etianne Charry
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephane Rosenbaum
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Vendetta Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 12, 2013