In the Mood for a Violent Outburst
Me, in the office, the other day:
'You know, can't decide whether to go and see Mood Indigo or the Inbetweeners sequel.'
Bloke what inhabits next desk: 'Mood Indigo? What's that then?'
'You know, that French arthousey thing. We saw the trailer before Guardians of the Galaxy last week, remember?'
'Yeah, it had all that surreal stuff in it... Audrey Tatou... the couple getting married under water...'
'Oh God yeah... who is it?'
'That French guy... Michel... er... Michel...'
'Oh, Michel Gondry. You kind of know what you think you're going to get from his films, they're very...'
'Yeah. But I want to see what the reviews are like on Inbetweeners 2, plus it's probably going to be packed out on the first day. I remember going to see Cowboys and Aliens the night Inbetweeners came out and some guy was trying to sneak his grandchildren into see it even though they were clearly underage.'
'Yeah, well, be interesting to see if they take the opportunity to do some jokes about the fact it's a bunch of guys in their late twenties playing teenagers. There's some potential there for comedy.'
'Mmm, not sure. The Inbetweeners does ironic, it doesn't really do knowing.'
My respect for Bloke on Next Desk is considerable, and was so even before I learned he once met Jason Statham socially (used to work with Mr Statham's one-time girlfriend), but I remain to be convinced of the wisdom of making The Inbetweeners 2, let alone going to see it, so off I trotted to see Mood Indigo. If nothing else this proves that my unerring instinct for making bad decisions is still fully operational.
Mood Indigo is based on a 1947 novel written by Boris Vian, the English translation of which is various entitled Froth on the Daydream or Foam on the Daze. You may be wondering just what any of those titles actually mean, in which case I wish you good luck with your wonderment, as I am supremely unequipped to provide any kind of explanation.
Romain Duris plays Colin, a carefree young independently-wealthy Parisian. He enjoys spending time with his philosophy-loving friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) and his private chef Nicolas (Omar Sy). On discovering Chick and Nicolas have both embarked on the adventure that is romance, Colin decides to do the same, and after meeting the charmingly quirky Chloe (Audrey Tatou, who's basically giving the same performance she always gives in every film she's ever made), they embark on a breathless, whirlwind love affair. But when Chloe falls seriously ill with a life-threatening condition, it threatens to undermine their happiness forever...
So what, you may be thinking, that doesn't sound particularly distinctive: standard issue romantic weepy, so what. Fair enough, the substance of the story is nothing particularly unusual. But there is a sense in which the actual plot of Mood Indigo is the least notable thing about it, for this is how a fairly typical scene from early in the film plays out:
Nicolas has baked Colin and Chick an enormous decorated cake. To make space to allow him to serve it, he clears the existing plates and other crockery off the table with a shovel. Colin is delighted with the cake and insists Nicolas joins them in partaking of it. Nicolas initially demurs. Then the front door rings, and as usual this is a trigger for the doorbell to turn into a six-legged mechanical insect which scuttles across the floor. Somebody whacks the doorbell-insect with a blunt implement, causing it to split into many smaller doorbell-insects which pursue and devour each other until the last survivor resumes its place on the wall. The person at the door turns out to be Nicolas, who has gone off duty to eat the cake.
The cake is cut and proves to be stuffed with pink cotton wool, along with a couple of bottles of the scent of famous philosopher Jean-Sol Partre (no, Michel, stop: my sides). Chick is a massive Partre fan and guzzles down one of the bottles eagerly. Meanwhile Colin has received a telegram from Chloe arranging a date, and...
Oh, you get the idea. The wild visual invention and whimsical surrealism of Mood Indigo is, well, relentless. My heart began to sink before the end of the opening credits as I realised just exactly what kind of a film this was going to be: probably about the moment when I realised Colin shared his apartment with a mouse, realised by an actor in an intentionally unconvincing mouse costume. Then came the moment when it was revealed that Colin's preferred method of emptying his bathtub is to drill through the bottom and allow the water to irrigate the plants in the flat below, or the revelation that his great invention is the pianocktail, a musical instrument that prepares a drink based on what tune you play on it.
Now, please don't get the idea that I'm against visual flair or style or wild invention in films: of course I'm not. And, on some level, the sheer work-rate of Mood Indigo in this department is quite impressive. But there's so much of it, and most of it just feels like directorial showing-off rather than anything meaningful. Gondry isn't using the surrealism to illustrate the mood of the characters or the theme of the story - it just seems to be there because he thinks it's clever or funny. Maybe this is a French thing, because the two French guys on the end of my row were killing themselves laughing most of the way through. I think I cracked a smile maybe two or three times all the way through.
The whimsy doesn't even let up as the story goes on and the mood of the piece turns much darker than you might expect: the film's unorthodoxy extends beyond surrealism, to ripping up the traditional romantic-comedy-weepy story-structure. The problem is that I found the studied non-naturalism of the story made it impossible for me to engage with it on an emotional level - unless you count being irked to the point of severe annoyance by endless, pointless surreal sight-gags. As a result I actually found it quite a struggle to stay awake to the end of Mood Indigo, which isn't something that often happens to me, and never during a film that I'm genuinely enjoying.
Then again, this is a film from a very particular culture, and the product of a extremely distinctive sensibility. Your mileage may vary. But for me, the problem isn't just that the visual style doesn't always suit the story, it's the two are frequently pulling in opposite directions, crippling Mood Indigo as a genuine story, as opposed to a collection of extravagant visual quirks. Not that this necessarily guarantees that Inbetweeners 2 will be a better film: but one way or another, I can't imagine it being close to as annoying as Mood Indigo.