Michel Gondry is one of those directors like Baz Luhrmann and Tim Burton. They've got a style, and what a style it is, but sometimes that style is just so... them. You watch a movie like The Great Gatsby or Alice in Wonderland, and as pretty and fun as it is you recognize each director's unique talents as the bedazzled and gaudy crutch they are.
That's how Gondry's Mood Indigo starts out.
Our hero is Colin (Romain Duris), a wealthy man who lives a mostly carefree life inventing quirky devices like his pianococktail, a musical instrument that crafts drinks through playing a song, with each note and chord controlling the nature of the liquor and accents in the final concoction.
He lives in a wacky apartment full of wacky appliances served by a wacky chef (Omar Sy) who is assisted by a wacky mouse and makes wacky stop-motion, impossible dishes with help from TV cooking show where the host can hand you spices through the screen.
Oh, and the whole thing is actually part of a job where people use an assembly line of type writers to write out people's actual lives.
It's a beautiful and entertaining film, I'll give it that, but for one solid hour it's just a constant barrage of candy apple madness without real heart or purpose. It's like Gondry really wanted to make a bunch of music videos for The Killers and they said no so he made a movie that ambles along weirdly instead.
It's the same self-indulgent reliance on a trademark that's ruined Burton, and it's sad to see Gondry go the same way. I mean, I loved Pee-Wee's Playhouse too, but there's a reason that show was 30 minutes with commercials.
The real saving grace of the film is Audrey Tuatou as Chloe (Tautou can even make The DaVinci Code watchable, and there really ought to be a special Academy Award for that sort of talent). Chloe is Colin's love interest, and you buy that just fine because I've never met a man that didn't fall ass-over-tea kettle for Amelie.
At first, she's really just another prop in the circus, what with the freaky, stretchy-limb dancing and go-kart race to the altar at their wedding. However, if you can power through to the third act, things get very dark and very real, even as the fantasy elements ramp up even more.
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Chloe contracts a disease that grows a water lily in her lung. Colin flits from possible cure to possible cure, lost as he searches for someone to trust and heal his wife. Their apartment slowly takes on a hellish appearance similar to the land of the suicides in What Dreams May Come. Financially struggling, Colin goes to work for a bizarre weapons manufacturer that uses human males to grow laser guns, and even tries to hijack the writing line to briefly restore Chloe to health.
It's tragic and dark and oh so messed up. The ending is a litany of blood as all Colin and Chloe's friends' lives suddenly spiral into depraved sorrow and tragedy. Two thirds of the film is a near-pointless episode of Rainbow Brite as imagined by the Brothers Quay, then it's a soul-tearing exhibition of rot.
I honestly haven't been so disturbed by a French film since He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not (Also starring Tautou, by the way, and worth watching). I'm not sure if the painful brilliance of the finale is worth the journey. It feels like all that Song of the South stuff nobody cares about on the way to the big drop in Splash Mountain. There's no denying, though, that finale is powerful stuff.
Mood Indigo opens at Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park today.