With Mood Indigo, French filmmaker Michel Gondry returns to the surreal and visually inventive after recent forays into the mainstream (The Green Hornet) and teen slice-of-afternoon (The We and the I). His latest is for fans of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep — particularly those who don't require a lot of plot. Mood is a quirky, whimsical romantic comedy, in which the story, however sweet, feels secondary to the endlessly unfolding visual tricks and fantastical sets. (The film is based on Boris Vian's 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream.)
Colin (Romain Duris) is a wealthy Parisian who spends his days complimenting his valet/cook Nicholas (The Intouchables' Omar Sy), keeping up with his flatmate (a tiny man in a mouse suit) and inventing such things as the "pianocktail" (an extra-ordinary instrument that mixes a cocktail inspired by the music played upon it). Colin's friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) invites him to a party, where he is entranced by Chloe (Audrey Tatou). They dance the "Biglemoi" — during which their legs become elongated and rubbery — and a whirlwind romance is born. But the bloom of love is imperiled by another, literal, bloom: A water lily has begun growing in Chloe's lung.
Viewers aren't obligated to ferret out deeper themes beyond the love story; however oddball, Mood still offers the standard disbursement of joy, comfort, upheaval and pain. But several scenes and set-pieces explicitly comment on our desire — and frequent inability — to control life's narrative. We're introduced to the story via a factory-like room in which workers pound out words about our protagonists upon typewriters moving past on a conveyor belt — a modernized "exquisite corpse" exercise. Colin and Chloe's planned nuptials suddenly depend on the outcome of a race with another couple, and one character's schedule is kept on a Rubik's cube-type puzzle. Chloe's unexpected illness changes everything, and Colin tries everything he can to reverse it.
Mood's slim plot means viewers will need to be sustained by the film's visuals, little jokes and loopy tweeness, all of which Gondry has upended a full bag of. There is stop-motion animation — a live eel "pours" out of a faucet. There are nods to Tati, and any surrealist of your choice — a bird runs the ice-skating rink. There's a running gag about philosopher Jean-Sol Partre, whose 20-volume Encyclopedia of Nausea is "bound in nothingness leather." And there's the actual undeniable adorableness of Duris and Tatou. The forecast here is for "slight, but whimsical and charming," and that could be a fair afternoon.