Compulsory reading for any French teenager, Boris Vian’s 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream, from which L’écume des jours (Mood Indigo) (2013) is adapted, is one of those texts that one probably finds out too young and too quickly to enjoy it at its best, or to appreciate its various flavours. Michel Gondry‘s adaptation gives us a chance of re-reading it in a interesting way, as while he somehow betrays the novel and turns it into a Gondry film, he probably delivers the best interpretation possible.
Colin (Romain Duris) is a young man who does not need to work to make a living. He lives in a phantasmagorical post-war Paris, surrounded by his two friends, Nicolas (Omar Sy), his cook, and Chick (Gad Elmaleh), his obsessed-with-‘Jean-Sol Partre’ friend. He spends most of his time listening to jazz, and making up dream machines such as the ‘pianocktail’ – how could Gondry not fall in love with this invention? When Colin meets the delicate Chloé (Audrey Tautou), it is love at first sight and their marriage is full of happiness until Chloé suffers from a strange disease. She has a water lily growing in her lung and, even though she tries to deny it, breathing becomes more and more difficult for her. All of a sudden, Colin and Chloé’s life is totally transformed. Colin even has to work in order to pay for Chloé’s treatment and their own appartment begins to shrink, to become darker and darker, as spiders’ webs grow all over the place.
The most accomplished scenes of the film involve Gondry’s visual revelations, especially those that remix the chronological references. Nicolas, for example, looks up in his agenda on a sort of black and white Rubik’s Cube, as if the 1940s, the 80s and the 2010s meet through this kind of low-tech smart phone. The ancestor of a search engine is materialized by people launching requests and treating them manually like old phone operators would have done. In other words, the theory of Colin’s neighbor, an old woman who says that the walls getting closer to each other evoke the feeling of shrinking space that comes with age, is proved wrong when it comes to Gondry’s imagination, which expands with time. And in Mood Indigo, his jubilation is clearly noticeable.
If the second part of the film flounders in some lenghty parts, one can also blame Gondry’s fidelity to Vian’s novel, in which the characters are somehow unreal, as there is no point in describing precisely their psychology. Therefore, one does not feel very moved by Chloé’s state of health worsening. But Gondry also partly eludes this pitfall, thanks to perfect casting (Omar Sy, Alain Chabat), even including the extras.
In the end, one has perhaps not been amazed and delighted by such a visual inventiveness since Delicatessen (1991), but at the same time, Gondry sometimes gives the impression to be overwhelmed by the machinery he has given birth to, as if, at some point, the creator lost control of its creature. In Be Kind Rewind (2008), one of Gondry’s most affecting films, two video-club employees decide to save hundreds of films from the oblivion by ‘sueding’ them, that is reshooting them with what is at hand. It is this ‘sueded’ tone that somehow misses in Mood Indigo, although the film remains very pleasant and sometimes even really stimulating.
125 mins. In French.