Friday, July 18, 2014

'Mood Indigo' (2014) directed by Michel Gondry

There are few things more tedious than having someone tell you their dreams. This is precisely the same tedium that Mood Indigo induces: “and then the alarm clock turned into a spider, and a little mouse man ran out of a pipe, and then an eel popped its head out of a tap and I had to chase it! Isn't that CRAZY?!” If your measure of good filmmaking is how much random bullshit you can cram into a movie, then director Michael Gondry's latest definitely delivers.

The largely irrelevant plot concerns the relationship of Colin (Romain Duris) and Chloe (Audrey Tatou). Early in the film they meet, fall in love and get married. Then Chloe gets infected by a water lily which grows in her lung. Treatment is expensive and soon Colin's finances are spent, forcing him to take up a job incubating proton guns (which involves him lying on a pile of dirt for 24 hours at a time). Pretty crazy, right?  Well, not really - underneath the constant visual assault and self-consciously surreal plot developments it's actually a straightforward terminal illness weepie, but one so wrapped up in tawdry quirks that it's difficult to care.

I have a hell of a lot of time for Michel Gondry: one of the smartest, most inventive directors around. His successes, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and his brilliant music videos are awe-inspiring works of genius. I even have a soft spot for his failures: Green Hornet was a deserved flop, but even within that there's solid gold nuggets of sublime cinema. With all that in mind it's with a heavy heart that I have to report that Mood Indigo just isn't very good.

What a wacky car.  What will they think of next?
From the opening shots you sense that this is the product of a director let off the leash. It's as if Gondry has gone through his notebooks and realized every unused idea he's ever had – throwing everything into making this the most Michel Gondry film ever. But, like guzzling down a big box of chocolates in one go, too much of a good thing makes you sick. Concepts that would have made for a great three or four minute music video are splattered hodgepodge throughout the movie – and worse, they don't mean anything other than being weird for the sake of being weird.

For example, what does an ice-rink attendee having the head of a pigeon mean? How much does it inform us as to the themes of the film to have a pair of shoes growl like dogs? Why are the side panels of that car made of perspex? All this imagery piles up on top of itself in a chaotic, tangled mess – the few genuinely powerful symbolic elements drowned underneath. Worse, the stop motion, hand-made nature of Gondry's many, many weird gee-gaws induces a kind of doomy queasiness, like being on a drug trip that's starting to go bad.

The upshot of this is the near total crushing of any humanity in the film. Duris and Tatou, so moving together in Cedric Klapisch's recent Chinese Puzzle, do their best to wring a drop of pathos from this material, but even actors of their calibre can't contend with a cinematic world designed to focus our attention anywhere else other than on the human elements. The end result is that when the credits roll you think “that's it?!”

Oh right, some kind of cloud thing.  Fair enough.
The closest cinematic companion to Mood Indigo isn't Gondry's previous work, but that of Terry Gilliam. At Gilliam's best, the rush of ideas and imagery is exhilarating, at his worst it induces a numb fatigue in the viewer, like a boxer who's gone a few too many rounds and stopped caring about taking the blows. More specifically, this film reminded me of Gilliam's 2005 nadir Tideland, a nauseatingly unpleasant movie that also throws everything it can at the screen in an attempt to disguise that there's not much going on (also the only film I've ever seen that opens with the director half apologizing as he explains that you probably won't like what you're about to see).

I feel incredibly guilty criticising a film for being too imaginative. The vast majority of cinema is a sludgy grey morass of cliches and banal platitudes. Mood Indigo certainly isn't that – on the rare moments that it does work it becomes briefly magnificent. The slow slide into desaturation throughout the film beautifully conveys depression and guilt, as do the cobwebs and muck that slowly accumulate in our hero's apartment. But these tiny highlights are swamped by a flood of pointless visual bullshit that distracts and annoys much more than it does inform.

For all that I didn't enjoy watching Mood Indigo, it's a difficult film to genuinely dislike. Even if the end result doesn't work, the enthusiasm baked into every single frame very faintly rubs off on you. Then again, I might be singing a more pissed off song had I seen the original 131 minute cut of the film. After a critical beating by festival critics, the theatrical release has been pared down to a svelte 94 minutes. Frankly, even the truncated version feels overlong – by the final act I was bordering on exasperated, checking my watch to see how much more I had to endure.

I respect the creativity that's gone into Mood Indigo.  I appreciate the effort it must have taken to make.  I'm glad that films like this can exist.  But it's there's no escaping that this is a failure as a movie.  


Mood Indigo is released August 1st.

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