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In the Movie Mood for Love and Dadaism

Ed Rampell: Shots in Indigo reminded this viewer of the playful sense of discovery of Georges Melies early shorts, as well as of scenes from Jean Vigo or Luis Bunuel/ Salvador Dali films or prints by M.C. Escher, with Rube Goldberg type inventions, such as a piano that creates cocktails.

MOOD INDIGO Film Review

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Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo is a wildly, visually -- and at times aurally -- imaginative film. Gondry and co-writer Luc Bossi based their script on Boris Vian’s 1946 cult novel L’Ecume Des Jours (which could be translated as Foam of the Days); with its vivid pictorial panache and optical opulence, it’s as if the avant-garde Dadaist arts movement was expressed onscreen, rendering the unconscious visible. Shots in Indigo reminded this viewer of the playful sense of discovery of Georges Melies early shorts, as well as of scenes from Jean Vigo or Luis Bunuel/ Salvador Dali films or prints by M.C. Escher, with Rube Goldberg type inventions, such as a piano that creates cocktails.

At the heart of Gondry’s (who directed and co-wrote 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 2006’s dreamy The Science of Sleep, andhelmed 2011’s The Green Hornet) highly surreal cinematic excursion are two love stories: Chloé (Audrey Tautou, 2001’s Amélie, 2006’s The Da Vinci Code, 2009’s Coco Before Chanel) and Colin (Romain Duris, who also co-stars with Tautou in 2013’s Chinese Puzzle) and Chick (Monaco-born Gad Elmaleh, who starred in Costa-Gavras’ 2012 Capital) and Alise (Senegalese actress Aïssa Maïga of 2005’s Cache, 2006’s Bamako). Whether underwater or floating in the sky or on ice, the charming story moves along swimmingly, full of sight gags and whimsy. But, shall we say, things take a sudden turn for the worst and this extraordinarily colorful film literally become black and white. Interestingly, this happens around the same time that the independently wealthy Colin runs out of -- you guessed it, fellow charter members of the wretched of the Earth! --money.

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Chick is obsessed with Jean-Sol Partre (Philippe Torreton), an obvious parody of the philosopher/writer Jean-Paul Sartre, in this film that lampoons -- and harpoons -- existentialism. (The irreverent Indigo also seems to spoof Mickey Mouse; is nothing sacred?) One of Partre’s books is called Stench, which, presumably, is a reference to Sartre’s Nausea. The movie’s multi-culti cast depicts a France with enough Black characters to make National Front voters, well, nauseous. (Indigo is mostly in French with English subtitles and has a jazzy score that favors Duke Ellington.) Unfortunately, although the Black character Nicolas (Omar Sy of 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past) is identified as an attorney, he is depicted as a kind of servant who cooks (his dishes are sure to delight foodies) and does other things for the Caucasian Colin.

Tautou, who was so refreshingly endearing as the irrepressible Amelie a dozen years ago, is now in her late thirties and no longer so fresh faced that she can play ingénues, gamins and newlyweds. Mood Indigo suffers from the same problem as other special effects driven films that are more about the FX than the characters and plot: If the underlying story and its dramatis personae aren’t strong enough, the film suffers. To tell you the truth, Indigo’s story is so-so, a bit trite, and the characters are cartoonish, while the bloom, as said, is off of Tautou’s rose.

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This adaptation of Vian’s novel is primarily for fans of his oeuvre and above all for those who love inventive, ingenious imagery that surpasses the Monty Python look and is cinematic in the sense that these pictures are primarily attributes of the filmic medium. Indigo is a triumph of style and form over content, so while this admirer of aesthetics and motion picture poetry loved it, Gondry’s work may not be the cup of tea for those who prefer their movies to be in narrative-story format. But for sheer psychedelic visualization, Mood Indigo may put the discerning cineaste in the mood for Dadaism.

Ed Rampell

Mood Indigo opens July 18 at L.A.’s art house the Landmark Nuart and New York’s Landmark Sunshine, to be followed by a national rollout.

Ed Rampell