MOOD INDIGO is Michel Gondry's most ambitious film yet, a whimsical surrealistic daydream brimming with imagination, and teeming with big ideas. It is also a deeply touching, sad insight into humanity's struggle to change the course of our fate and the reality of coming to terms with the inability to escape our confines as mortal beings. The film overflows with incredible visuals, vivid animation, distorted images, and splendid colors from the first dream-like frames to the final nightmarish closing scenes. Based on Boris Vian's novel, "Froth on the Daydream," Gondry's film reaches past the dimensions of the screen, sweeping us away in a unique experience. Gondry's style is not unlike Terry Gilliam's, making it a fitting double-feature along with THE ZERO THEOREM at this year's Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival.
The story begins with a surrealistic room in which a string of writers sit in front of a conveyer belt of typewriters, each writer typing one line before passing the manuscript to the next and repeating the process, writing the life story of the film's main character, Colin. As Colin moves through his journey, he eventually returns to this very room, desperately disrupting progress as he tries to alter the ending to a story he knows he is locked in. He fails, spectacularly, and is unable to change anything, the great struggle all who have faced impeding devastation have known. By this scene, the movie is stripped of the vibrant colors it began with, descending into a black and white palette that reflects the bleak outlook Colin is left to contend with, a touching use of visual mirroring to emphasize Colin's internal state.
Although this is not a comedy with a happy ending, the film's first half is a visual splendor, so full of imagination that other filmmakers will be hard-pressed to surpass it. The latter half doesn't quite hold up to the bar set by the opening, more whimsical and happy first half, but it still rings true emotionally and is nonetheless a compelling experience.
Colin meets Chloe, portrayed with the same majestical spark by Audrey Tautou as she demonstrated in AMELIE over 10 years ago, a daring, carefree woman with a bold and unwavering devotion to being true to herself and bringing out the best in those around her. The film strays closely to stereotypical boy-meets-girl territory and at times the romance is a tad unrealistically masculine focused, but it never goes over the edge, a tribute to the depth Tautou finds in her character, as well as the self-deprecating restraint shown by Romain Duris as Colin. Both create compelling characters to watch and their chemistry undeniably contributes to surpassing what could easily have been a very groan-worthy romance, turning it into the kind of relationship we can not only long for, but aspire to.
From the way I'm describing this, it might appear to be an unbalanced film, over-the-top with glee at first, and then descending into darkness later, tonally out of control, but that would be a discredit to Gondry's imagination. There are definitely two distinct halves to this film, although they don't split into two parts so neatly, but to dismiss either as not belonging to a cohesive whole would be to miss the point entirely. This is a trip into the subconscious realm that film has access to. It's a movie you simply have to let go of expectations in order to enjoy and it's like nothing else out there. What reference point could I even begin to use to contrast this to? Perhaps Gondry's previous work, but MOOD INDIGO is more than everything he's done before. Comparisons to Gilliam are unavoidable, but even there, the reference point ends as soon as it began.
So is MOOD INDIGO a dream? A reality? A metaphor? A fantasy? All of the above, perhaps, all at once, even. Gondry is a master at blurring the lines between not just reality and fantasy, but between the cinematic screen and pure imagination. It's almost as if the movie is projected straight out of our minds instead of from a mechanical projector, as though each audience member saw a different version of the film. Perhaps that's his point.
In the end, perhaps you have to see it to understand it. Cinema is all about the experience and there is none so far this year such as MOOD INDIGO.