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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Mood Indigo movie review: mood disrupted

Mood Indigo yellow light

Delightfully bonkers stop-motion vacuumpunk madness comes to an abrupt halt in this mysteriously truncated version of Michel Gondry’s latest romantic whimsy.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Michel Gondry

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is not a thing you ever want to hear: “Michel Gondry’s shorter, preferred cut for American audiences.” That was the proud announcement included in a press release about Mood Indigo from a U.S. publicist for the film, and that 90-odd-minute version is the same one I saw at a press screening here in London. Why does Gondry think we English speakers don’t warrant the two-hour-plus version of his whimsical love story? What doesn’t he want us to see? What does he think we can’t handle?

This is what I saw: an hour’s worth of delightfully bonkers movie about tinkerer Colin (Romain Duris: Populaire, Heartbreaker), proud inventor of the “pianocktail,” a musical instrument that makes a different kind of fancy alcoholic drink depending on which tune you play on it. He lives happily with his personal chef, Nicholas (Omar Sy: X-Men: Days of Future Past), and a tiny mouse (Sacha Bourdo in a furry suit), who has his own tiny transit system in the house for getting around the huge distances between the kitchen and the dining room. All is stop-motion madness — with a little bit of Terry Gilliam vacuumpunk thrown in for fun — as with the doorbell that skitters down off the wall near the door like a giant machine insect and must be smashed to make it stop ringing. (It mysteriously always repairs itself in time for the next visitor.) This is all happening in a Paris slightly adjacent to the one we know, where the laws of physics are, amusingly, a little different… but nothing seems odd to Colin until he meets and falls for Chloé (Audrey Tautou: Coco Before Chanel, The Da Vinci Code), and now his world is truly all askew, in the most marvelous way, of course.

It’s all funny and cute and endlessly entertaining, to be tickled in cinematically clever and unusual ways: how few filmmakers have any interest in being silly and not-at-all realistic! (All those huge FX budgets go into convincing us that the impossible is real, rather than that the impossible is just deliciously, comically impossible and yet here we are looking at it anyway.) It’s romantic in all senses of the word: Gondry (The Green Hornet, The Science of Sleep) even manages to find some magic in the architectural pit of despair that is the Les Halles complex that blights the Paris cityscape in our world as well as this one. This is a movie in which someone can cry out, “The music is making the room round!” and it is actually happening.

And then Mood Indigo comes to an abrupt and startling halt. I mean, quite literally, it just stops. It had taken a dark-ish turn a bit before it stopped, which was jarring and unexpected, and I was waiting for that to get tied in with the sweet magic and fresh whimsy and eventually make a sort of sense, in a narratively satisfying way. But that never happened. I felt as if something vital had been chopped off the end of the film. Or some storytelling bridge had been excised from the final third of the film.

I didn’t know, at that point, sitting there in the dark watching the end credits and wondering how the heck the movie could possibly be over, that this was “Michel Gondry’s shorter, preferred cut for American audiences.” When I learned that later, it made sense. Not the sort of sense I was looking for, though.

I would love to see the longer version of the film, but while there are numerous international DVDs and blu-rays available, none of them seem to have English subtitles. Maybe we’ll eventually get the opportunity to appreciate Gondry’s original vision. Maybe it still won’t quite work. For now, though, the version of Mood Indigo available to us is a frustrating experience: a charming wonder, until it suddenly isn’t.

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Mood Indigo (2014)
US/Can release: Jul 18 2014
UK/Ire release: Aug 01 2018

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, nudity)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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  • Tyler Foster

    I love Gondry. Wasn’t quite taken by his invention here, perhaps because (and I thought it might be true, but didn’t know for sure until a couple of months after I watched it) that much of the whimsy is actually imported straight from the book. His cameo is hilarious, though.

    I agree that the depressing nature of the last half is quite jarring, and like you, I wasn’t sure what was being said by going so dark. I’m okay with a film being a downer, but I need to get a sense of why. I didn’t learn it was cut until just a few days ago, but the review that said the fantasy stuff is all faithful also said the book was focused on class division, which can still be sensed in the movie, with Duris constantly funding his buddy’s indulgences. Since Gondry apparently cut the film “for those less familiar with the novel”, I’m guessing that stuff is what got cut, and he focused on the romance. I’d be interested in seeing the longer version.

  • LaSargenta

    No subtitles… perhaps this will make you want to learn french? In your copious spare time, of course.

    How annoying. This sounds like something I’d enjoy without the wierd end point.

  • Danielm80

    I don’t want to see the movie, but I do want to live in the world where it takes place, with transparent limousines and clouds you can ride around in.

  • Bluejay

    with a little bit of Terry Gilliam vacuumpunk thrown in for fun

    What is “vacuumpunk”? How is it different from steampunk (which is what I always assumed Terry Gilliam was)? Google searches aren’t giving me any definitive answers (yet). Must be a new term?

    Another “-punk” to add to the list, I guess.

  • Bluejay

    Whoops. I meant:

    Another “-punk” to add to the list, I guess.

  • Danielm80

    Vacuumpunk is what the world would look like if the Internet really were a series of tubes. We’d have vacuum parts as home decor. Imagine a steam-powered version of 1984–which, I suspect, would look a lot like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Perhaps you already saw the longer version, MaryAnn, and you hated it so much that you chose to have it artificially erased from your memory. :-)

  • “Vacuumpunk” is my own invention, as far as I know. Instead of Victorian gears and stuff, it’s all 1940s tech: vacuum tubes, cathode rays, that sort of thing.

  • LIkely!

  • RogerBW

    The trailer looked good, but thanks for the warning. I’ll stay clear of this until I can see the actual film.

    (Mind you, I haven’t heard Gondry being up in arms about this cut. So presumably either he doesn’t find it wholly objectionable or he’s being paid a lot…)

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