Anyone who criticized “The Grand Budapest Hotel” for being artificial had better properly prepare himself for the experience of Michel Gondry’s “Mood Indigo,” a picture that’s almost all busy style and whimsical visuals but very little substance. Though it’s been substantially trimmed from its original European release, coming it at around ninety minutes as opposed to more than two hours, by the end you’re still likely to feel that it’s too long, and not so much imaginative as excruciatingly self-indulgent.
Adapted by Gondry and Luc Bossi from a novel by Boris Vian, “Indigo” is essentially a quirky version of “Love Story” told with all the visual gimcrackery the director can muster—which is an awful lot. Colin (Romain Duris) plays Colin, a well-to-do fellow whose apartment is filled with all sorts of wacky gadgets (like a machine that mixes drinks on the basis of music played into its keyboard), as well as a mouse (played by a man in a suit) and what appears to be a mechanical cockroach. Colin’s closest friends are his chef Nicolas (Omar Sy), who’s popular with everybody and is apparently clever at arranging anything, and Chick (Gad Elmaleh), a bespectacled fellow who has a passion for books (at one point he’s desolated by his inability to purchase a twenty volume encyclopedia of nausea), especially the work of cutting-edge intellectual Jean-Sol Partre (Philippe Torreton)–just one letter removed from Sartre, of course.
Chick also has a girlfriend—Nicolas’ relative Alise (Alissa Maiga), which makes Colin anxious to have a romantic relationship of his own. And so at a birthday party for a friend’s dog his buddies make a point of introducing Colin to Chloe (Audrey Tautou), a winsome lass he falls for immediately, though his initial approach is, of course, clumsy. They enjoy a whirlwind courtship, which includes a flight above Paris in a little capsule shaped like a cloud and lifted by a crane as well as frolicking at an ice rink, before they get married in a frantic ceremony that involves lots of running about and driving around in toy-like cars.
Tragedy soon strikes, however, as Chloe falls ill—a doctor (Gondry himself) diagnoses that a water lily is growing on her lung, and the only way to slow it down is to surround her with flowers. Colin will bankrupt himself providing her with blossoms, and ultimately be forced to take menial jobs to pay for more flowers—like providing the human heat needed to fire proton guns. But eventually even that proves inadequate to his needs.
Through this last section of the film, Gondry’s appetite for visual pizzazz continues. It seems as though he’ll include each and every conceit that occurs to him—Nicolas’ touch in the kitchen, for example, is so remarkable that the goodies he makes literally dance around on the plates begging to be eaten. The hubbub of animation (both conventional and stop-motion), automated contraptions, computer-generated imagery, masks and other effects overwhelms the human performers, who wind up looking rather desperate. Duris works in the broadest strokes, perhaps hoping that his slapstick gyrations will allow him to stand out among all the visual chaos. Tautou is surprisingly faceless, Elmaleh more irritating than endearing. And though Sy flashes his bright smile incessantly, he fails to convince you that there’s any reason for you to do likewise.
It must be said that Gondry design team—production designer Stephane Rozenbaum, costumer Florence Fontaine, animator Valerie Pierson, special effects director Julien Poncet and visual effects supervisor Stephane Bidault—have obviously put in many hour realizing their director’s dubious vision. Stunt coordinator Remi Canaple clearly did yeoman service as well. And cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne and editor Marie-Charlotte Moreau were clearly pushed to the limit as well.
But in the end “Mood Indigo” comes across as the cinematic equivalent of a diet composed entirely of sugary candy with directions that it to be consumed at a rapid clip. By the close you feel as overstuffed as the movie, and a trifle nauseated too.