Ah, Gondry! Michel, ma belle. Like a reanimated ghoul risen from the cold, dead earth, here he is – looking as singularly scruffy and angularly awkward as ever.
And he’s incanting something to himself. Something about ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. And ‘The Science of Sleep’, and ‘Be Kind Rewind’, and his music videos for ‘Around the World’ and ‘Let Forever Be’ and ‘Everlong’, and how the mutual obsessions manifested across this canon of work used to provide pretend cine-philes with a little tick-list to trot out when required – at least till they ditched him and took up with the equally taxonomic works of Wes Anderson instead. The dirty sluts.
Those directorial trademarks include intricately lo-fi practical effects, at the expense of any significant CGI presence, and mildly miserable male romantics seeking a soul mate; wallowing in a quagmire of arrested adolescence as they wait to experience the bittersweet emotions which signal entry into the world of adulthood.
Gondry’s latest offering, ‘Mood Indigo’, represents a fusion between his own style and the equally avant-garde imaginings of Boris Vian, author of the 1947 novel on which the movie is based. But equally, even just the opening few minutes are enough to leave you in zero doubt as to how snugly it slots into the French filmmaker’s established oeuvre.
We begin with an introduction to Colin (Romain Duris), whose life is apparently being ‘written’ by a battalion of stenographers manning a perpetually moving procession of typewriters situated in the luminescent womb of the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Communist Party HQ in Paris.
Colin’s weird world seems partly like a retro-future version of our reality (it has its own effort-intensive answer to the humble Google search) and partly the kind of overflowing mindscape familiar from the various movies and music videos mentioned above. The environment is every bit as alive as the characters who inhabit it; from the scampering pet of a doorbell, to the delicious dishes cooked up by Nicolas (Omar Sy), it’s all given a beautifully twee animated treatment courtesy of regular Gondry collaborator Valérie Pirson.
The irrepressible beat of the ‘Mood Indigo’ story-world mirrors that of its characters’ hearts, with it soon emerging that both Nicolas and Colin’s other main man, Chick (Gad Elmaleh), have recently found new loves. Determined to do likewise, Colin soon meets and falls for the charming Chloé (Audrey Tautou), only for their childlike bliss to be rocked as her health falters (her heart condition reflects Vian’s own, which claimed his life at the age of just 39).
Slightly curiously, the version of ‘Mood Indigo’ we’re getting here in the UK is a significantly leaner creature than the cut which was released in France last year, with that first version running some 30-plus minutes longer. But, following negative critical reaction at home, Gondry sanctioned a scale-back in runtime – which is a bit of relief as even this trimmed version proves oft-prone to distracted dawdling.
Part of the problem stems from the expressionistic flourishes that epitomise the Gondry aesthetic. Fun as it is to see the cast, led by the perma-smiling Sy, boogieing along to Duke Ellington while their dancing limbs perform impossible cartoon feats, these moments of creative flair build a distance between characters and audience which make it sometimes tough to connect with the emotions of the story.
As with Stéphane in ‘Science of Sleep’, the characters of Colin and Chloé are not always entirely sympathetic, with their refusal to grow up coming across as much brattish as it is charming (when they’re wed, they’re declared free from family and work). Heavy reliance is therefore placed on the charisma of the performers to carry the viewer along.
On this count, ‘Mood Indigo’ is blessed with a fairly stellar trio of leading men. Sy is effortlessly charming as the Romeo able to give love but not his heart (except via his devotion to Colin and Chloé). And Elmaleh very effectively captures the woes of his character, as his initially amusing fixation upon philosopher ‘Jean-Sol Patre’ turns into increasingly deranged obsession (in reality, Vian knew Jean-Paul Satre from the Parisian intellectual scene. Vian’s first wife, Michelle, knew him even better; she left Boris for JP).
Duris, meanwhile, does enough to justify his place in the unlikely pantheon of Gondry leading men – what other club can claim all of Jim Carrey, Rhys Ifans, Dave Chappelle, Gael Garcia Bernal and Jack Black as members?
And then there’s Audrey Tautou. Given her love-her-or-hate-her status amongst film fans, she in many ways is the perfect performer for a movie by the equally polarising Gondry. And indeed she proves to be, with neither her own divisiveness nor that of her director’s likely to be diluted by the mannered charms of ‘Mood Indigo’.
Mood Indigo is released in the UK on 1 August