Featuring: Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy, Alain Chabat
Director: Michel Gondry
Writers: Michel Gondry, Luc Bossi
2013-14 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 16–22 Dec, 8pm
Joondalup Pines: 24, 26–29 Dec, 8pm
Verdict: Ingeniously inventive, but dramatically slight.
Colin (Romain Duris) is wealthy enough not to have to work. Although wanting for nothing materially and pampered by his manservant and chef-magician Nicolas (Omar Sy), he is missing a soulmate. Enter Chloe (Audrey Tatou), whom he falls in love with and marries. Soon after, she contracts a strange illness emanating from a water lily taking root in her lungs. Exhausting his wealth in trying to find a cure, Colin is forced into taking on work, and fights a losing battle to maintain their fairy-tale-like happiness
The opening scene features an ornate, domed office full of typists, row upon row, hammering away lines of a story on retro typewriters. Uh-oh, smells like meta-fiction. Literary construction line workers composing a novel? Someone please smack a wooden stake into the heart of post-modernism (difficult target, granted)! Then comes a title announcing that the story that follows is true “because I imagined it from beginning to end.” Umm…
As it happens, meta-bullshit and pretentiousness are not the real enemies here. The downfall of this flick, and paradoxically its greatest strength, is the astounding but utterly undisciplined imagination of its writer/director, Michel Gondry, which runs rampant through every – and I mean every – scene.
Doorbells transmogrify into mechanised insects that scuttle down the wall, a tiny rat-man runs around in a miniature car, ties come alive and flip about like fish on the end of a line, the eel that is on the lunch menu squirms up a kitchen tap and attempts to avoid recapture by moving through the plumbing to poke his head out of another tap, then another and another…no sooner does Nicolas the chef go to grab him than he disappears and reappears and so on. In one of the most memorable scenes, dancers’ limbs elongate and distort to Duke Ellington’s Chloe.
At first, the myriad hallucinatory goings on are fascinating and fun. Refreshingly, too, most of the magic is done not with CGI (yawn), but through stop-motion animation and – according to some promo blurb I skimmed through – in-camera trickery. Whatever, it’s wonderfully managed, in moments very beautiful and lyrical, and yes, magical. BUT…
Only so much of this stuff is digestible before it becomes distracting, then exhausting! You have two choices: take on the load and try to stay with the hallucinatory minutiae, or stop focusing intently on the magic tricks in deference to the characters and story.
I opted for the latter 30 minutes in – I was too drained not to! Unfortunately, the pickings then become lean indeed. The narrative is slight, and there’s not much to the characters which, along with the performances, are sideshows to the main event: that is, Gondry the fabulist extraordinaire and grand cinematic illusionist. As ingenious as he is, his talent does not amount to much more than wonderfully executed gimmickry without some developed dramatics such that you at least care about the characters and what happens to them. And cinematic magic tricks, no matter how well done, don’t carry a film for 95 minutes (prudently, the original 130 minute version was edited down).
If you enjoy a good squirt of French quirkiness and surrealism/absurdism a la Delicatessan and other stuff by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, you should check out Mood Indigo. It’s in much the same stylistic ballpark, but Gondry smashes the ball of inventiveness way further out of the stadium. To what end, though? That is the question.
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