Surrealist art didn’t often deal with love, but in his delicate paintings, Russian artist Marc Chagal depicted the weightless euphoria of romance. Chagal would often paint intertwined lovers floating above rooftops or soaring through clouds, utterly disconnected from the travails of everyday reality.
Director and co-writer Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo, adapted from the novel L’Écume des jours by Boris Vian, has a similarly airy quality; it’s a romantic melodrama shot like a lucid dream. Vian’s novel has appeared in the cinema before, as Spray Of The Days, directed by Charles Belmont, and Chloe, directed by Go Riju, but Gondry makes the story his own. The French director clearly feels at home with this tragic romance, and he wears it like a warm fur coat.
Romain Duris plays Colin, a middle-class man who lives with his devoted chef and driver Nicolas (Omar Sy) in a trendy quarter of Paris. At an elegant soiree, Colin meets and is immediately besotted by Chloe (Audrey Tautou) who happens to have the same name as his favourite song by Duke Ellington. Breathless romance ensues, yet clouds are forming on the horizon: Chloe contracts a rare illness, and the delicate bubble which surrounds the couple is in danger of bursting at any moment.
In such films as The Science Of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry has repeatedly explored the boundaries of his own hand-crafted style. Mood Indigo is no different, presenting a self-contained version of Paris where everything feels simultaneously artificial and riotously alive. Otherwise inanimate objects such as shoes and doorbells take on a weird life of their own. Gastronomic genius Nicolas serves up platter after platter of bizarre food, which jerks around unpredictably thanks to Gondry’s puppetry and stop-motion animation.
Visually, Mood Indigo is unpredictably, gloriously disconnected from reality, but its drama feels closely tethered to the real world. Beneath the surreal crane rides, ice skating rinks presided over by giant birds, and numerous other visual non-sequiturs, Mood Indigo is essentially a story about the fragility of love and happiness.
Romain Duris and Audrey Tatou share a wonderful chemistry as the central couple, whose initial burst of affection is rocked as the real world comes rushing back in. Gondry adds colour via a curious subplot involving Colin’s friend Mr Chick (Elmaleh), a bespectacled intellectual whose own relationship is endangered by his obsession with an author named Jean-Sol Partre (an obvious reference to existentialist writer Jean-Paul Satre, whose effect on Vian’s personal life was profound).
Mood Indigo remains whimsical from beginning to end – perhaps frustratingly so, if you don’t go in for Gondry’s quirky brand of cinema – but through his fantastical imagery, the director touches on a universal truth. Like the flowers which repeatedly pop up in shot after shot, the things that thrill us the most as human beings – food, love, comfort, health, and ultimately life itself – are to be treasured all the more because they are fleeting.
In his obliquely amusing, bewildering, but often desperately sad film, Gondry captures the rich texture of existence. Each scene is composed and executed with infinite care, and in many ways, this is the director’s most satisfying film since Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind, as it seamlessly blends his usual creativity with a bewitchingly simple and tender story. As a visual poem about love and sadness, Mood Indigo is lighter than air.
Mood Indigo is out on the 1st August in UK cinemas.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.