Romance and tragedy collide in this French fantasy drama from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry, who puts a personal spin on Boris Vian’s 1947 novel L’ecume Des Jours (aka Froth on the Daydream) about an idealistic man of means, Colin (Romain Duris), who meets and marries the quirky Chloé (Audrey Tautou), only to have his world fall apart when Chloé discovers a water lily is growing on her lung.
Set in Paris in an undefined time period (although its heavily inspired by Gondry’s memory of the city in the 1970s), Mood Indigo (which gets its name from the 1930 Duke Ellington jazz tune) is a joy to watch and listen to from beginning to end – even if you aren’t familiar with Vian’s much-loved post-surrealist comedy (it comes in at number 10 in Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century). But it is a plus to have someone French on hand to get all the cultural references – like the character Jean-Sol Partre being a spoonerism of existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre.
The absurd visuals are wonderfully inventive: a doorbell turns into an indestructible millipede; a piano becomes a musical cocktail maker; colourful dishes of meat, fruit and veg dance, jump and squirm when touched; then there’s the weirdly erotic Biglemoi dance that is straight out of a 1930s Silly Symphony cartoon. And they all serve to breathe life into Vian’s anarchic source material, which has been filmed twice before and also served as the inspiration for an opera.
But unlike it’s whimsical counterpart, 2001’s Amélie (which famously launched Tautou on the international scene), it’s not all fun and froth for this boy-meets-girl love story which turns morbidly monochrome when Chloe’s sickness takes hold and the couple’s apartment literally falls apart before their very eyes. Think La bohème as made by the Brothers Quay. The film’s fatalistic themes stay true to Vian’s novel, while most of the narrative also stays intact, including the parallel storyline about the Partre-obsessed Chick and his girlfriend Alise. Colin’s pet mouse, however, does get a reprieve (he commits suicide in the book) and provides the film with a colourful glow of hope in the closing scenes.
Mood Indigo is out now on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from Studiocanal
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