Michel Gondry, as is by now no longer open to debate (though you’re welcome to try and pry it), needs, in order to make a really great film, a collaborator like Charlie Kaufman who can provide him with dramatic, emotional, narrative grist to transmute in the alembic of his wildly inventive imagination into something uniquely wonderful. Gondry is an infinitely resourceful cinemagician, but he is not, on his own, going to make a film as simultaneously substantial and dazzlingly whimsical as ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004), which he directed from a Kaufman script. What we’re left with, not ungratefully, is the dazzling whimsy, which, along with Gondry’s unrelenting playfulness, guarantees that his films, sort of like an extravagant sundae (which they resemble), are liable to leave you feeling both empty and bloated, and nursing a headache to boot. On the other hand, you may have a higher lactose and sugar threshold than I do, and THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP (2006), for you, may have been nothing but a giddy-making pleasure to behold and a crash-free delight to consume.
In that lucky case, Gondry’s latest — a perpetually mobile, whirligig adaptation of Boris Vian‘s immortal absurdist novel of the French 1960s, L’Écume des Jours (literally, “the foam of the days,” but titled, like the film, Mood Indigo for its initial publication in English) — should hit the same sweet spot, and then some. It’s just as manic as its predecessor most of the time, but it’s lovelier, funnier, dreamier, and just generally more — more of the same kind of different, that is. Vian’s novel was (and is) an exuberant transfusion of post-war avant-garde tendencies (particularly the recondite experimentalism of the Oulipo group) with a madly comic, louchely cool, jazz-drunk sensibility. Gondry loses a lot of the cool — his silliness and sentimentality overpower it — but the rest he gets onto the screen in his usual way, slapdash with respect to the big picture but fastidiously attentive to ornamental detail.
L’ÉCUME DES JOURS is — if you want to know something about the plot — a love story; a doomed love story, in which Colin — a ridiculously wealthy young dandy (Romain Dury) who employs a physicist as his personal chef and spends his days playing the “pianocktail” (a cocktail-making piano) while discussing the cod-philosophy of “Sol Jean-Partre” (author of Vomit, haha) with his money-grubbing best friend — has his life turned upside down when he meets Chloe (Audrey Tatou), a wisp of a gamine (I mentioned she’s played by Audrey Tatou?) who shares his passions for Duke Ellington and traveling around Paris in a two-person cloudmobile. Tragically, Chloe inhales a — well, never mind, watch the movie. It wears its tragedy as lightly as it wears everything else. Come down to the French Cultural Center today to quaff down Michel Gondry’s fizziest cinecocktail yet. Only take care not to breathe in any water lilies, even if you’re feeling tragic. The mood will pass.
French Cultural Center
Bright Family Screening Room
559 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02116