By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 2, 2014)
Drowning in a sea of schmaltz: Mood Indigo
I know “love is strange” (as the song goes), but as posited in Michel Gondry’s new film, Mood Indigo, it’s downright weird (and frankly, borderline creepy). Not that I haven’t come to expect a discombobulating mishmash of twee narrative and wanton obfuscation from the director of similarly baffling “Romcoms From the Id” like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, but…enough, already.
Set in some kind of alternative universe version of Paris, and sporadically annotated by a choreographed typing pool straight outta Busby Berkeley, Gondry’s story centers on a self-styled trustafarian hipster named Colin (Romain Duris), who fills his days tinkering with Rube Goldberg-type inventions like a “pianocktail” (you know, a piano that makes mixed drinks…what are you, new?).
In the meantime, his personal chef Nicolas (Omar Sy) prides himself on concocting offbeat entrees like “trickled eel with lithinated cream, and juniper in tansy leaf pouches…for the pleasure of Sir and his guest” (gee, I wonder how the other half lives?). Then there’s the tiny little dancing man in a mouse costume, who scuttles about on the floor of Colin’s Pee Wee’s Playhouse-ish apartment (don’t ask).
Colin is entertaining his BFF Chick (Gad Elmelah), who is pontificating about his favorite philosopher, “Jean-Sol Partre” (in case we don’t get the Bizarro World joke). Chick is also very excited to share the news about his new American girlfriend Alise (Aissa Maiga), and Colin is jealous and sulky over the fact that he didn’t discover her first; especially since she is Chef Nicolas’ sister.
Not to worry. Enter Chloe (Audrey Tautou), an eccentric young woman with whom Colin Meets Cute at a friend’s soirée. One thing leads to another, next thing you know, bada bing bada boom, they’re playing house. But you know what they say. It’s all fun and games, until someone accidentally swallows some kind of mutant plant spore while gasping in the throes of passion, causing a flower to sprout in her lung (wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that narrative).
The result is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg meets Street of Crocodiles; or imagine characters stuck inside of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” video for 90 minutes. The two leads are charming, but Gondry’s tendency to favor form over content keeps shoving them to the side, rendering them moot to their own story. I can see where he’s going with all the surreal accouterments; in fact it’s a school of film making that has become synonymous with his fellow countrymen Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro (Amelie, Delicatessen, City of Lost Children). But at least Jeunet and Caro seem to know when to rein it in enough to let the narrative breathe. A door bell falling off the wall and turning into a mechanical cockroach that needs to be swatted to stop ringing is amusing once; but Gondry assumes it will be just as amusing the third, fourth or fifth time. It’s not.