Michel Gondry’s new film MOOD INDIGO is a little bit like the best parts of all those videos, employing stop motion cinematography in a diesalpunk surreal world where people fly in cloud ‘cars’ hung from cranes and miniature humans in mice costumes don’t look out of place running around tubes in a house. The film, released by Drafthouse Films in the US and hitting Austin this Friday, is a veritable visual feast. This is a film that needs to be seen on a big screen that can take you away to another world, a world where typewriters speed past Mad-Men-esque secretaries on conveyer belts as they punch out the plot of the story. From the very moment the film begins, Gondry treats us to one ridiculously improbable invention after another, such as a GPS system that is just a live video of a man pointing to a map with an arrow or a proton gun that needs to be warmed with human body heat for 24 hours to work. Probably the most memorable is the pianocktail, an upright piano that automatically crafts a drink from a variety of possible liquids and fruits (and eggs) according to the notes and chords you play, each one perfectly matching your mood. I sat in awe through the whole experience, overwhelmed by the creativity in every frame of the film. Gondry himself admits his fascination with objects, saying in his press notes: “The idea that things are almost more alive than people suits me well. When I was a child, I’d often take objects for people, even to the extent of believing they were ganging up on me!”
MOOD INDIGO is an adaptation of a Boris Vian book, “L’Écume des Jours,” and Gondry came onto the project after co-writer and producer Luc Bossi had written the first draft of the adaptation. “We reworked it together, but we kept his idea of having this great big workshop at the beginning of the story where the book is produced,” says Gondry, “to my mind, it shows that the book is inescapable. It is concrete and indestructible.” The film, like the book, has a very fatalistic mood. The opening of the story is so bright and hopeful, and thrusts itself at you with an almost frenetic pace; there is nowhere to go but down. With the book being produced in the factory, it is clear that Colin and Chloe’s fate is already written. As the situation worsens, Colin’s homes decays and actually shrinks, “your standards have lowered” says his friend. Further along, as the story takes a tragic turn, color retreats from their world completely, and film finishes in black and white.
But the true star of MOOD INDIGO is the scifi production design, as if the mechanical world had once more overtaken the digital one. “My starting point was a book written in 1947, prior to the digital age,” explains Gondry, “back then, my grandfather invented a synthesizer—the calvioline—which worked with valves. I try to avoid nostalgia but it was a time when I could still understand what was going on in technological terms.” The world, despite being interconnected through tv tubes and such, represents more of a utopian that dystopian reality. “I was also keen to avoid a kind of Orwellian retrofuturism,” says Gondry, “I didn’t want to show the studio where the book is being written—in a slightly ridiculous way because each worker is assigned one single sentence—in too negative a manner.”
MOOD INDIGO is a special and beautiful film. It defies the cgi-obsessed trend of studio films, and explodes with imagination. Although the pictures often overwhelm the action, there is just enough story to keep it moving forward. My only complaint might be that with so much artifice around them, it is hard to really feel anything of depth for the characters. I can see them feeling, and see how it affects the world in which they live, but I always feel like I am watching an expertly crafted piece of art, rather than really being drawn in at an emotional level. Still, this is not one to be missed. Especially on the big screen where Vian’s imagery can be fully expienced through the expert lens of Gondry.
Michel Gondry’s MOOD INDIGO opens in Austin this Friday.