Mood Indigo, the latest from French director Michel Gondry — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep — kicks off as a whimsical, surreal Parisian love story before falling, like an autumn leaf, into a melancholy look at aging, death and possibility of fate. The Paris of Gondry’s imagination is remarkable. It’s a quasi-steampunk, sci-fi wonderland with bizarre inventions: keyboard instruments that mix cocktails, flying cloud cars and alarm clocks that scurry up walls, like spiders. Those familiar with Gondry’s work will recognize his flair for fantastical production, of which he is an undeniable master. For those unfamiliar, think of him as a Gallic Wes Anderson, but less of a perfectionist.
Breathlessly, Mood Indigo rushes you into the life of Colin (Romain Duris), a young man who “demands to fall in love.” His chef/manservant/friend sets him up with Chloé (who is none other than Audrey Tautou, of Amélie). The two fall for each other in a series of mini-adventures, each more fantastic than the last. Without the mounting strangeness of each episode, the surreal goofiness of every passing moment would certainly grow dull. Luckily, Gondry has a seemingly unlimited supply of aces up his sleeve, so just when the fantastical gadgets lose their charm, he’s got something to surprise you, be it a twist in the story or a trick of cinematography. Some of these visual distortions are unforgettable. One has the characters’ legs go all laffy taffy, curving like light on the edge of a glass, when they dance to Duke Ellington. The effect is weird, brilliant. Another distortion, which reverberates with happiness, has the couple suddenly appear underwater at a moment of intense joy. The two kiss, and the world is filled with a liquid elation. It’s fun as hell.
But just when the joy hits its zenith, the seed of disaster falls. That of a water lily, to be exact. A flower starts growing in Chloé’s lung — this is a wonderful example of Gondry’s surreal imagination — and Colin has to use up all his money to treat her, by surrounding her bed in fresh-cut flowers. To support the endless bouquets, he’s forced to get a job. The zaniness of everything gradually winds down, and the film’s colors slowly fade. One notices that typewriters have been, throughout the film, writing out the lives of this couple in little bits. It gets one wondering about how our lives are scripted, written out by the powers above us or by the very structure of our society. And even though Chloé’s sickness is absurd, the threat it poses cuts surprisingly deep. Call it a water lily or call it cancer: it doesn’t really matter. The way disease disrupts life just kills any aspect of fairy tale — even in a story as magical as this. Additionally, the gravitas of the ending makes one reflect and cherish all those silly, brief moments of youthful romance — even their annoying aspects — because it’s just so hard to imagine, at the beginning, flowers blooming with tragic consequences.
Mood Indigo is playing at the Edina Cinema.