American-made films with an unmistakably French sensibility have been the hallmark of French director Michel Gondry’s unusual career. Movies like Gondry’s early masterwork Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (for which he won an Oscar as co-screenwriter) and Be Kind Rewind (in which video clerks remake movies like Ghostbusters after accidentally erasing a store full of tapes) use wildly imaginative visuals to support surreal visions of American culture. Gondry returned to France to make Mood Indigo, an adaptation of Boris Vian’s L’Écume des Jours, a novel so beloved in that country that reading it has become a rite of passage for French teenagers.
It’s hard to imagine material better suited to Gondry’s particular gifts than Vian’s dreamlike tale of love. The film succeeds at creating a fantastic world in which everyday objects spring to life and a piece of music can change a square room into a circular one, and where vivid colors fade to grey as the story goes from light-hearted to somber. Included are some wonderfully satirical assaults on worthy targets like the working world and highbrow French culture, and Audrey Tautou (Amelie) makes a characteristically effervescent leading lady. But for all its visual wizardry, Mood Indigo doesn’t add up to nearly as much as it should — at least in the version created for markets outside of France, which has lost more than 30 minutes from the original French cut of the film. Cleverness can only take you so far.
Mood Indigo starts today, Friday, August 8, at Zeitgeist Movies. More info here.