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Mood Indigo is a 2013 French film made by the acclaimed filmmaker Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep). It is an adaptation of the novel written from author Boris Vian entitled Froth on the Daydream, which was a popular French novel which appealed to both children and adults throughout several generations. Starring Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris, Mood Indigo was met with mixed reviews but has all of the fancy visual experimentation that Gondry's fans would expect.
Though the original book has been adapted as several other film or media incarnations, Gondry's take is decidedly surrealist and differs somewhat from the book (while keeping the core idea of the story intact). The basis of Mood Indigo is that Colin (Romain Duris), a well-off individual who seeks out love, meets the remarkably charming and smart Chloé (Audrey Tautou), who is equally seeking love. The two fall in love with each other over the course of a few months and are married shortly thereafter.
Things spiral out of control for both of them when Chloé develops a rare disease in which a flower is growing in her lungs. In order to treat the potentially deathly illness, she must be surrounded by beautiful living flowers which will then shrivel up and die as the flowering environment attempts to stop the blooming inside of her lungs. She must also take a living medicine that is rare, expensive, and potentially unsafe.
These are the only things that can potentially save her. As her health is very ill, Colin must find a way to afford the medicine, flowers, and support she needs to survive. Colin had a large reserve of funds at the start of the story (though the film never explores exactly how these funds were earned or received) and must start trying to earn funds working in a dystopian environment in which work is sparse, often dangerous, and unwelcoming. He finds odd jobs, like typing at a factory (where the original source novel is being typed by employees one line at a time) and covering the ground with his body to help the growth of special acorns that need some human warmth.
The story (and film) begins with a sunny outlook and an array of stylistic flourishes suggesting sunny happiness, good times, and a free spirited environment for the characters and their lives. They go out dancing and their legs extend into long balloons wavering across the dance-floor. They go across the city and participate in a variety of carefree activities. It all seems so grand. Alas, this was not to last.
Over the course of the story, things begin to change. First the story seems to be only bright. The cinematography reflects this: it starts with wonderful hues of brightness and color. Then it starts to shift. The story shifts into questionably sad territory and the film's color begins fading. Then, as the dark climax ensues the film turns black and white. It's shift from radiant color (presented as a burst of colorful objects) into a monotone form is the visual centerpiece of Mood Indigo. It was an idea Gondry formed as a teenager when he imagined a film that would transition slowly from radiant color to dim black and white. He wanted to make something that shifted in these color tones as the storyline changed and became something sadder and darker. At that time, Gondry was not even sure he would be a filmmaker. Yet the idea clearly had a big impact. Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne does a magnificent job bringing this idea to life onscreen.
For an average filmmaker, Michel Gondry is probably intimidating as an artist. He has more creative scenes and moments on display in Mood Indigo than some audiences could end up experiencing over the course of fifty films. That Gondry possesses such a unique gift is one aspect of his strength. Another is his ability to tap into his inner child and remember what a youthful imagination can stir. The filmmaking of Gondry is the kind of work one rarely sees, where everything is so delicately done in the technical craft and artistry. It's akin to seeing a magic show: the magic of the movies blooms with a brightness as radiant as the flowers that bloom in Mood Indigo.
Gondry is one of my favorite filmmakers. There is something remarkably unique about his style of filmmaking and the types of stories he gravitates towards. I have been a fan of the filmmaker since seeing his early works as a music video director. For that part, Gondry was a skilled artist unlike any of his other contemporaries - except perhaps Spike Jonze (who differed in style if not in enthusiasm or skill). Working with the likes of Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers, Bjork, and The White Stripes (all, coincidentally, amongst my favorite musicians), Gondry became prolific as a director within the music industry who was known for making dazzling music videos that were as inventive as they were entertaining.
When transitioning into film, he met an undeservedly mixed response with his early work, but found great success with the brilliant work Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. To this day, that is one of the most visually unique and most moving romances ever to be done on film. It's one of the rarest of masterpieces: something that manages to feel completely unique while also retaining the history of cinema in another pocket of its wonderment and skill. This skill for being able to combine a budding nostalgia for the past while looking to the future with creative design, invention, and originality is something that served Gondry well when making his latest endeavor.
Mood Indigo impresses on so many levels. The filmmaking by Gondry is one of the core areas, of course. A Gondry film is always a special event. Who else makes a film which combines a love of the past of cinema with the promise of tomorrow with such enthusiasm? A few other filmmakers, perhaps, but none with the exact sensibilities that make Gondry's film so rich in creativity. The blend of both traditional and modern CG effects for the film was impressive. Everything about his cinematic world is detailed. In Mood Indigo, one gets the impression everything took a long time to create. Even a few seconds of the film might have taken an enormous number of hours to perfect.
One thing that is staggeringly different about Mood Indigo from several other Gondry films is the use of Red Epic cameras for the digital photography. This is apparently the second time it's been utilized on a Gondry production. These camera seem like a perfect fit for someone like Steven Soderbergh, with his often clinical style of filmmaking. While Gondry is very detail oriented in his technical wizardry, the beautiful nostalgic approach is somewhat lessened by dealing heavily with the perfection of the sleek digital photography. Even though it is rather marvelous to behold, I will say I now have my own nostalgia for when Gondry shot on film, making beautiful looking films that felt like they were steeped in the history of cinema. This element was especially effective with The Science of Sleep, which breathed a bit differently in comparison (because it was shot differently and it allowed time for the various showy technical attributes to unfold without ever losing sight of the characters or story).
Even if Mood Indigo is flawed from Gondry's ambitions for making this film a technical marvel at each turn, it's still a radiant, impressive, and heartfelt film. The performances given by both Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris shine magnificently. Audiences will adore and connect to these characters and the actors emotionally-intelligent performances. There is also the great music accompanying the film with jazz songs from Duke Ellington to the score by Etinne Charry, which is whimsical and light. The production impresses with set design by Stephane Rozenbaum and Costumes by Florence Fontaine. Overall, Mood Indigo works in most ways: great performances by the actors are aplenty, it tells an interesting story, and the audience can become wowed by the dazzling technique. Gondry has done well with this endeavor and fans of the filmmaker should certainly seek out this unique effort. It is practically a very-nice gift for his biggest fans (delivered all wrapped up and with a neat little bow).
Mood Indigo arrives on Blu-ray with a stunning 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded image in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is a magnificent presentation that wonderfully preserves the top-quality digital photography filmed with state-of-the-art Red Epic cameras. Color, contrast, and clarity are all immensely satisfying during the presentation. There are no faults at all with this presentation from a technical perspective.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a wonderful 24 bit lossless audio presentation which is something that shines triumphantly throughout. The film does have a somewhat simplistic surround design and only offers occasional ambiance and the use of the music score for its implementation of surround, so some viewers might find that a bit disappointing, but as to its ability to sound clean, clear, and crisp -- with easy to understand dialogue -- the release is one which will satisfy. It is especially nice to hear the relative smoothness of the selections of jazz music featured throughout the presentation.
The film is presented in French with English subtitles (non-removable). This is the only language option on the disc.
There are a ton of extras included on this 2-Disc Blu-ray release. First up is the inclusion of a "theatrical version" of the film which is a shortened U.S. cut of the film (and not as Michel Gondry intended for the film to be seen). The theatrical re-edit cuts 36 minutes of the film.
Despite it being the version released in US theaters it's certainly not a director-endorsed release of Mood Indigo. The version released in France theatrically is listed as being a "extended cut" (presented on its own Blu-ray disc). This was the final-cut version Gondry approved. For the United States, Mood Indigo was re-edited by acclaimed editor Tariq Anwar, whose work on editing American Beauty and The King's Speech brought great acclaim. The film cuts out a abundance of the (sometimes excessive) visual flourishes and trims some scenes that some audiences might have felt played out too long. In other words, some viewers might prefer it because it brings the focus of the film away from some of the extended visual conceptions Gondry is famous for and it should feel like a film closer to the story and characters.
Other audience members will scoff at this idea of a re-edit and be annoyed. I am a bit perplexed by this re-edited version existing. Even though I found the film to be a tad over-long in its first, original form, a director is always the individual who should have final cut on their own artistic creation. I don't consider a re-edit as authentic, even if it was edited by someone who is a master of the profession. Viewers will have to make up their own mind. Luckily, Drafthouse Films have included both versions with technically astounding Blu-ray's and did not sacrifice in presentation quality by putting both of these versions on one disc. Each is clearly identified and included with separate discs.
The supplemental side of the release includes a wonderful 20 page long booklet featuring a good selection of interviews. Director Michel Gondry is interviewed and so are cast members Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy. A few color (and black & white) pages show a couple of memorable images from the film. There is also a brief 4 page storyboards inclusion. Lastly, the booklet includes film credits and disc production credits. (I do wonder why Kristen Bell got a 'special thanks' credit here and if this is the same Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars and Frozen fame?)
On disc supplements include:
Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry (10 min.) features behind-the-scenes interviews with the filmmaker, cast, and producers about the acclaimed filmmaker and his directing style.
Set Creation (9 min.) showcases making-of material emphasizing the creation of the various (frequently elaborate) set designs.
Costumes (5 min.) centers on the design of the film's whimsical costumes.
About the Novel (6 min.) is a short piece where the filmmaker and cast discuss the novel.
From the Film to the Book (22 min.) is another making-of piece focused on the book and filmmaking.
Behind Michel Gondry (40 min.) is a lengthy making-of documentary for Mood Indigo where the documentary filmmaker following the making of Mood Indigo did the effort "behind" filmmaker Michel Gondry while he worked on the film: from dealing with the extras, to the main cast, and creation of the film's technical hand-made effects.
Animated Letter from Michel Gondry (2 min.) to Audrey Tautou. This is a beautifully animated short film letter which was sent to Tautou to try and win her over so that she would join the cast of the film. Gondry was described as having told Tautou she was "perfect for the role" and he felt it was essential he cast her in the part. This is probably the most creative and flattering piece ever of a director audition for a actor's participation (and not the other way around).
Deleted Scenes (8 min.) includes five sequences deleted from the final cut.
Theatrical Trailer for Mood Indigo.
Trailers promoting other Drafthouse Films releases.
Lastly, a digital copy is included. The release is also presented in a (highly preferable) non-eco case, so the packaging safely protects the cover-art and discs. The cover art includes a reverse option (so buyers can choose between two artwork selections) which is a painted classic film poster style artwork.
Final Thoughts:Mood Indigo is at times whimsical, beautiful, and moving in its love-story and because of the natural charisma of the lead actors. At other times, this is a film that is distracted by its own stylistic flourishes. Regardless, Michel Gondry has crafted another generally excellent film which is a worthwhile experiment for fans of the filmmaker. Drafthouse Films has given the film a quality Blu-ray release with both the Director's Extended Cut (the version released internationally) and the shortened theatrical cut (made primarily for the US release). The release is jam-packed: loads of supplemental material await fans of the film. Mood Indigo is a solid effort and this release is one worthy of consideration.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.