Michel Gondry sucked us into his surreal world with movies like Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Now he's back with Mood Indigo, an eye-popping fairy tale about a magic world where everything is mutable — except cancer.
There's a lot to love in this film, especially in the first half, where we're learning about the bizarre alternate world where our characters live in floating houses with sentient doorbells, grow extra-long legs to dance, and eat fruit-dazed eel for breakfast. It feels a lot like the psychedelic posthuman parties in Iain M. Banks or Rudy Rucker's novels, where people can grow extra limbs for fun, make art out of repurposed asteroids. We meet Colin, a rich, carefree man, who spends his days musing and drinking and hanging out with his attorney Nicolas, who inexplicably spends all his time cooking and chauffeuring Colin around instead of practicing law.
Colin's biggest problem is that his best friend Chick has become a crazed fanboy for a philosopher called Jean-Sol Partre (a play on Jean-Paul Sartre). Chick spends all his money going to Partre conferences, and collecting books that may contain Partre's fingerprints. At one point, he even buys a weird bust of Partre, who looks exactly like Sartre except with goofier glasses.
Oh, and also? There is a bizarre room full of people on a typewriter assembly line, creating a kind of industrial exquisite corpse story about Colin's life.
There are also a ton of retro-futuristic computers throughout the film, whose operations look like literal incarnations of the "internet of things." These kinds of stylish, crazy details make this movie both fun to watch and to contemplate later.
When Chick meets a wonderful woman who shares his love of Partre, Colin realizes he's the only one of his friends who isn't in love. So Nicolas — who has like twenty million girlfriends — takes Colin to a party where they grow giant legs and dance. There, he meets Chloé (the ever-cute Audrey Tautou) and falls in love with her pretty much instantly. Their romance is also full of twee but genuinely sweet visual bits, as they eat morphing food, sail in a cloud car all over the city, and get married underwater.
Then the movie takes a turn for the worse. Partly that's because it becomes a melancholy meditation on aging after Chloé starts growing a flower in her lung and dying of magical cancer. But partly that's because Gondry tries to add depth to the whimsical surrealism of his world — and instead falls back on awkward, uncomfortable clichés.
We discover that none of the women in this world work, and are supported by their husbands. Indeed, Colin discovers that marriage means losing money because suddenly you have to support a lady — who expects to buy lots of dresses and whirl all over the city in style. Chloé's disease eventually bleeds him dry, but so does his friend Chick, who needs money to marry his girlfriend (and support his Partre habit). Plus, the gimmick with Colin's attorney Nicolas starts to feel creepy rather than funny. By the middle of the film, the notion that Nicolas is an attorney has been completely forgotten, and we're left with the only major black character in this movie working as a cook and driver for Colin — and spending all his time (why?) catering to Colin and Chloé's whims.
It feels distressingly as if this whimsical world has become a stop-motion confection layered on top of men's rights social values. I kept waiting to find out that the "marriage equals death because women" theme was another joke, but instead it becomes the ultimate message of the film. Plus Nicolas never gets to step out of his servant role (and uniform), except one time when he teaches the white people to dance.
Still, when Gondry isn't trying to deliver his social messages, the visuals in this film are pure pleasure. He's brilliant at capturing the way it feels to fall in love, or to find out that your beloved is sick, using nothing more than stop-motion wizardry. It's sort of a stoner art film, and I mean that in the best possible way. If you can watch it with your eyes, and ignore the dialogue in the second half of the film, I guarantee you an amazing, psychedelic journey into a posthuman future you've never seen before.