French director Michel Gondry is well-known for his eccentricities and wild imagination. However, with his latest quirksome endeavour, Mood Indigo (2013), the director falls into the trap of artifice over art, neglecting both plot and themes in favour of wild flights of unsubstantiated fancy. Gondry has based his film on Boris Vian’s 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream. The story focuses on Colin (played by Gaelic heart-throb Romain Duris), a debonair member of the leisure class who wiles away his days creating strange whiz-bang devices (including a piano that mixes cocktails) in the company of gentleman’s gentleman and gastronomic genius Nicolas (Omar Sy) and keen bibliophile Chick (Gad Elmaleh).
Colin is unsatisfied with his bachelor life and in a snap of his fingers solves this problem by attending a party where he encounters the charming Chloé (Audrey Tautou), whom he promptly marries. However, it’s not a happily-ever-after story as Chloé discovers she has a water lilly in her lung, which her doctor (a Gondry cameo) informs her can only be cured by surrounding herself with more flowers. Colin promptly abandons his hedonistic ways and decides to find a job to save the woman he loves. Whereas Gondry impressed critics and audiences alike in 2004 with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which dexterously navigated serious themes of loss and the pain of love, with Mood Indigo his approach is far less satisfactory, struggling to properly grapple with the few ideas it tosses about.
Mood Indigo becomes a slightly more intriguing experience only after navigating into darker territory, shifting into a monochrome aesthetic reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965). Prior to this, Chloé’s diseases starts to manifest as nicotine-yellow cobwebs which matte themselves together over the walls and windows. As she struggles to breathe, the exuberance and joy of the universe they inhabit are choked; the sunshine is shut out. There’s also a suggestion that all this frivolity has led to a lack of future planning; that the carefree jubilation of youth can become the melancholy regret of the present. If Mood Indigo preaches anything it delivers an anti-carpe diem agenda, reminding the viewer that all this surrealism comes at a price. Gondry’s latest is not dissimilar to an ice cream sundae, topped with an elaborate and gluttonous array of creams, sauces and frostings that you eat and eat, only to discover there’s nothing at the bottom of the glass – a depressing thought indeed given what’s come before.