L'Écume des Jours (Mood Indigo, Der Schaum der Tage) (2013): Written by Michel Gondry and Luc Bossi, directed by Michel Gondry. Starring: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, and Omar Sy. Running Time: 125 minutes. Based on Froth on the Daydream by Boris Vian.
There are a number of questions one might be tempted to entertain after a viewing of L'Écume des Jours (Mood Indigo is the English title). Why can the cook talk with the chef in the TV? Who are all those people on typewriters? Why does the food move? Why is there a giant jet flying around inside Notre Dame with a black Jesus on it? What was the purpose of those caged birds? What was with those two randomly nude girls? Shouldn’t gravity prevent that man from being able to run up stairs sideways? Could those guns be any more phallic? How big, exactly, is that mouse?
The answer to all these questions and more is, thankfully, rather simple- shut up. Shut up, and enjoy your movie. Mood Indigo doesn’t care for your need for familiarity, your logic, your rationality, your reason. It is decidedly uninterested in your dull, predictable world, where legs bend sharply at the knees, where no one can elongate themselves at will, and where sunbeams can’t be played like finely-strung harps. You like your laws of physical science? Bah, says Michel Gondry. Here’s a scene where it’s raining and sunny at the same time. Deal with it.
Colin is happy. He has a large sum of money due to his perfect backstory of [file not found, or may have never existed], his new chef Nicola makes a new delicacy each day (when he can catch it out of the sink, that is), and his good friend Chick, obsessed with the writer Jean-Sol Partre, has just fallen in love with Nicola’s niece, Alise. Learning that Nicola is also in love, Colin decides that he, too, must find the perfect soul mate. One Duke Ellington song and one dance party of dreamily impractical proportions later, he has succeeded. He has met Chloe (Audrey Tautou), an enchanting creature of wit, energy, and charm. Before long, they are happily married (after go-kart racing Chick and Alise to the altar, naturally), and eagerly begin their mutual journey through that caged-bird-filled tunnel called Life.
Tragedy begins to set in almost immediately however. On the night of their honeymoon, a water lily implants itself in Chloe’s chest, possibly as a result of a game Colin played involving a shoe and a manservant. Treatable only with flowers, Colin’s money quickly begins to run out. At the same time, Chick grows increasingly obsessed with Partre and neglects Alise, leading to friction between all involved. Life becomes gloomier, and days darker. Sun beams that once filtered through the window thick and clear can now only seep in piecemeal. Dust, once non-existent in Colin’s apartment, now covers the walls and floors in thick mats, and the ceiling slowly descends closer to the floor, as the rows of typewriters clack away.
It is a true artistic relief to know that such a simple story about love, sickness, obsession, and a coldly impersonal society can be brought to the screen with such reckless imaginative abandon. I have rarely seen a movie inhabit its crazy, music-video-style world so completely that its departures from what we see as “normal” are not only visually fascinating, but are, from an emotional point of view, entirely fitting. Imagine you were to receive a call tomorrow that the person you love more than life itself was sick, possibly mortally so. Would the walls not suddenly constrict around you? Would day not instantly become night? As you run to their side, would a large, dark shape not detach itself from the wall and follow you down every street and alley? Would the sunlight not become less life-giving?
There is honestly very little I can say about this movie in a review, except to say, quite unambiguously, that Mood Indigo is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. Its story is so simple, its characters so intensely sincere (the acting on all fronts deserves praise, not just Tautou), and yet the world they inhabit is so completely unique and unlike anything I’ve ever seen, but in ways that make perfect sense. There are not words adequate to the task of conveying why this film works, even though it really shouldn’t. It is a strange and totally unpredictable journey. Many people will find it incomprehensible. Many will hate this movie, or immediately dismiss it as all show and no depth. I wish I could convince such people that this film is so, so much more. A movie shouldn’t be able to make me believe that a marriage causes the world to fill with 50 feet of fresh water, but Mood Indigo does.