Odd. That is the best way to describe Michel Gondry‘s French film Mood Indigo. It is a very artistic film, and although confusing at first, is very well done.
The movie starts very suddenly, with a rather bizarre introduction showing a large number of people operating typewriters describing the main character, Colin (Romain Duris), and his world. Everything goes well for Colin and his friends, who live a carefree life. However, after his friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) starts dating Colin’s other friend and cook Nicholas’ (Omar Sy) niece, Colin decides to find love, and ends up (awkwardly) wooing the beautiful Chloe (Audrey Tatou). After a whirlwind wedding, everything appears to be going well for Chloe and Colin, as well as Chick, his girlfriend Alise (Aïssa Maïga) and Nicholas (who has a string of women, most prominently Isis (Charlotte Le Bon). However, after Chloe falls ill on the honeymoon after accidentally breathing in a flower, everything starts going downhill for all the characters. In the end, the once wonderful life they all had turns into a bleak nightmare, and everything becomes darker and more miserable for the characters.
The colours make this movie. In the beginning of the film, everything is vibrant and light. A clear example of this is the house that Colin and Nicholas live in. At the beginning, when they are carefree and rich, the windows let in bright sunlight (this is shown in an amusing way with Colin playing on the fingers of sunlight as though they were a double bass). The sky is impossibly blue all the time, and everything in the house is colourful, including the food, which spins and moves. However, as the movie goes on, the colours become more muted and everything gets darker. In the house which seems to be shrinking inwards, things get dustier and the light can no longer penetrate the gloomy windows. The use of the light and colours to reflect the inner thoughts and sentiments of the characters is superbly done. In that regard alone, this film is an enjoyable watch.
It isn’t just the colours and lighting that changes as the film progresses – the various (weird and wonderful) surroundings also alter. Everything in the world of Mood Indigo is unusual from the very beginning. The house that Colin and Nicholas inhabit is filled with unusual items, such as a television that responds to Nicholas’ questions, a pianocktail (a device which creates drinks based on the songs being played), and a door bell which comes to life and acts like a spider. All of these items could almost come from a Shaun Tan book, fusing the mechanical and the biological. As the film goes on, these devices become more mundane and grey.
Although it is initially very unusual and confronting, the unusual aspects of the film are actually very useful as windows into the characters inner thoughts and feelings. A clear example of this is when Colin gets a phone call from the doctor saying Chloe is quite ill, his surroundings seem to split open, and the walls contract and try and crush him. Then on the run back to the apartment, his shadow comes to life and follows him insidiously, like a giant beast. Even the running in this scene is done as a representation of feeling: he actually spends very little time on the ground, as he is “flying” to get back in time to see his ill wife.
There are two major issues I had with the film. The first is that even though it was done very well and quite subtly, the bleak and depressing end of the film seemed completely at odds with the vibrant beginning. Whilst this is not a bad thing, it was an unusual juxtaposition that felt a little bit jarring. The other aspect was the confusing nature. For starters, the typewriters were never fully explained. They obviously were the narration to his life, but they were oddly done and did not seem to gel with the rest of the movie at all. Also, the Chick/Alise story line could have been explored further. While they were quite prominent early on (at one point, Alise breaks the fourth wall by telling Chick that they can “change the whole story” and be the heroes), the storyline more or less disappeared only to reappear right near the end, which was disappointing and at times confusing (the audience never finds out Alise’s fate).
Despite the issues such as the confusion and the odd nature of the ending, Mood Indigo is an entertaining movie. It was highly enjoyable and very thorough, although the confusion often prevented the story from getting through all the time. Also, despite the dark nature of the film, the strangeness and absurdity of some of the mis en scene actually detracted emotionally from what was happening on screen. However, issues aside, a solidly good movie, very much for the artistic movie-goer (or of course, a French speaker!)
Mood Indigo is showing at Cinema Nova, Carlton, from September 12 (September 11 for members).