The cinematic verve and visual artistry of Michel Gondry has made him a favorite of both cinephiles and casual filmgoers, and it’s a reputation earned largely through one film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The love story at the center of it saw the benefit of Charlie Kaufman’s gifted words, building a sturdy foundation from which Gondry’s flourishes could stand up. But like Gondry’s beautiful but frustrating films that have followed (lookin’ at you, The Science of Sleep!), Mood Indigo luxuriates in surreal landscapes but forgets to tell a compelling story.
What passes for a plot is little more than an endless stream of oddities constructed by the wealthy Colin (Romain Duris), an independently wealthy man-child whose home resembles Pee-Wee’s Playhouse on steroids. Seriously, this place is a crazy concoction of strange inventions like the pianococktail (it does exactly what you think), and weirder inhabitants like Colin’s pet mouse which is really just a dude in a mouse suit. Oh, and his alarm clock literally races around the house every time it goes off. He lives in the home with his lawyer buddy Nicholas (Omar Sy), who specializes in a rubber-legged form of dance that involves literal rubber legs. So yeah, it’s a little out there, even for a Gondry film.
And maybe that’s the problem in a nutshell. Gondry has become so wistful he no longer has any restraint; there is no method to his madness. So when Colin meets and falls in love with the beautiful and fanciful Chloe (Audrey Tautou), their whirlwind courtship consists of riding in cars made of clouds and other imaginative excursions but little in the way of real bonding. Duris and Tautou have played lovers before, notably in the Spanish Apartment trilogy, and have a goofy, playful chemistry that is easy to fall for. Their scenes together are infectious and enjoyable, with Gondry creating what often amounts to a sweet, confectionery music video of their budding relationship. Before long, Chloe and Colin are married but their wedded bliss is ruined when a water lily begins to grow in her lungs. If she is to survive he must constantly surround her with freshly grown flowers. The financial wear drains Colin’s bank account, forcing him to work at increasingly awful jobs to make ends meet.
As things turn for the worse, Gondry slowly darkens his vibrant color palette to a depressing gloom. Colin’s world becomes one of shadows and cobwebs, but it’s still Gondry playing around with effects so it never feels real. Choosing to show human sadness through camera tricks rather than genuine emotions leaves the film muddled and impossible to relate to. Gondry’s movies will never be dull, but Mood Indigo is a beautiful and soulless disappointment from such a talented filmmaker.