MOOD INDIGO, Michel Gondry's latest film, is surreal to an extreme, but once you adjust to the film's visual and thematic vocabulary, you will find yourself swept away by the story and the beauty. It's not surreal for surrealism's sake. Instead, it's as if the emotions of the piece are so raw that the author (MOOD INDIGO is based on the French novel L'ÉCUME DES JOURS by Boris Vian) put everything in a fantastical setting to escape from the pain. I am not familiar with the source material before now (it's apparently been adapted a few times for film), but it feels like the perfect story for Gondry to adapt.
One of the Fantastic Fest attendees described MOOD INDIGO as set in a Pee Wee's Playhouse world, and that description is apt; this is a Paris where anything can happen at any time. Gondry fills the world with quirky but gorgeous effects, from a doorbell alarm that scurries away like an insect, to a chef preparing a living meal, and Paris feels alive and romantic. Colin (Romain Duris) lives with his lawyer/personal chef/manservant Nicolas (Omar Sy) and while Colin has friends, he's still shy around women. Enter Chloe (Audrey Tautou), who Colin meets at a party, and their whirlwind romance results in marriage. But Chloe becomes ill, and Colin, along with his Partre-obsessed friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) and girlfriend Alise (Aissa Maiga) does everything he can to save her.
If that synopsis sounds dry - and writing a synopsis is particularly difficult, because while the skeleton of MOOD INDIGO is familiar story ground, Gondry attaches so much sumptuous imagery and meaning to it that saying what the story is about almost defeats the purpose - it's because MOOD INDIGO should be experienced as opposed to being analyzed. While MOOD INDIGO can be disconcerting going in, the rhythm of the movie brings audiences into its embrace.
It's also as pure a Michel Gondry experience on film as I've ever seen. Gondry has always played with big ideas and visuals to complement those ideas, but in MOOD INDIGO Gondry is given a huge canvas to paint. The cinematography is gorgeous and you want to drink it in. It also demands repeat viewing because there's so much going on in the frame that you want to watch certain scenes over and over for full effect.
But MOOD INDIGO wouldn't work as well as it does without emotion to anchor the fantastic imagery, and the performances of all the actors, especially Duris and Tautou as the doomed lovers, are top-notch. MOOD INDIGO's verisimilitude is sustained by their work and the work of Gondry and the effects artists in creating a living, breathing, fantastical Paris that exists only in the dreams of lovers and optimists. One could say that MOOD INDIGO (and the novel it's based on) is a direct commentary on the bleak worldview of Jean-Paul Sartre (heavily mocked in a terrific manner in the film) but you don't have to have any deep knowledge of French philosophy or cinema to enjoy it.
I have no shame in crying in movies, and so far this Fantastic Fest, my eyes have been relatively dry. I love a great cathartic cry in a great movie, and MOOD INDIGO delivered on that front; the last twenty minutes my friend who I saw it with was handing me tissue after tissue. With most any other director, this would feel like crass manipulation, but Michel Gondry's lovely images, coupled with the rich emotion of the story, utterly wrecked me in the ways the best movies do. MOOD INDIGO is as pure a cinematic experience (that, and GRAVITY) as I've experienced this year, and it was the film that made me want to own it so I could dive into that world at my leisure. MOOD INDIGO is one of my favorite films of the year.