Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: Mood Indigo

Image courtesy of Drafthouse Films.
Michel Gondry is a director of immense talent who has his own distinct visual style, so it's a shame that his latest - and, to an extent, last few films - haven't measured up to his best work, including his masterpiece "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and the affably eccentric "The Science of Sleep."

"Mood Indigo," his newest film, deploys every trick in the Gondry playbook - animated contraptions, distorted human bodies and eccentricity to spare - to tell a love story. But whereas "Eternal Sunshine," a heartbreaker of a film about a relationship coming undone, used these cinematic tricks to dig deep into profound territory, "Indigo" feels as if not only the director's imagination, but also his storytelling ability, has run wild.

The film kicks off with a series of typewriters sliding across a number of desks as those seated at the desks frantically type out the story's narrative, which follows the tale of Colin (Romain Duris), who has no job but, for reasons mostly unexplainable, has enough money to live on.

He resides with a porter named Nicholas (Omar Sy), who whips up all manner of gourmet treats for the both of them, utilizing strange contraptions such as a table that wheels itself back and forth from the kitchen, and teaches Colin how to do a peculiar dance in which the legs become as long as stilts. The pair also have a miniature pet mouse with a man's head who scuttles back and forth through pipes in the walls.

Colin, who is shy, spots Chloe (Audrey Tautou, who once starred in "Amelie," a film that used whimsical elements to brilliant, rather than distracting, effect) at a party and the two eventually end up getting married.

A snowflake - or something of the sort - floats in through the window one day as the couple sleeps and lodges in Chloe's lungs. Much of the rest of the film involves Colin attempting to heal his wife through bizarre methods, some of which are recommended by a doctor played by Gondry himself.

As I'd mentioned, the film is often marvelous to look at with its plethora of strange gadgets and visual non sequiturs, including a buzzer that scampers around like a gigantic cockroach, a painting with an arm coming out of it and a television cooking show in which the featured chef is able to pass spices through the screen to Nicholas. And there are moments when the film's emotional elements nicely gel with all the set design and visual artistry - a final sketch of a car zooming off into the sunset is poignant, for example.

But mostly, "Mood Indigo" is Gondry's opportunity to tinker with all of his obsessions, from the handmade special effects, peculiar characters and behavior and circus-like atmosphere we've come to expect of his films. And, unfortunately, these elements overshadow everything else.

There have been other directors (Wes Anderson and Jean Pierre Jeunet, for example) who walk a thin line between forced eccentricity and genius (Anderson recently put forth his best film in 13 years with "The Grand Budapest Hotel," while Jeunet's latest has yet to hit the states) - and I believe Gondry can create another film as wonderful and strange as "Eternal Sunshine." His latest looks great, but it's missing the je ne sais quoi that made some of his earlier work so special.

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