REVIEW: “Mood Indigo”


Filmmaker Michel Gondry has had his hands in all sorts of projects. He’s made music videos, short films, documentaries, and even television commercials. He has also made a handful of feature films of which I have seen two – the visually striking and potent “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and the painfully unwatchable “The Green Hornet”. His most recent film “Mood Indigo” falls somewhere in between the two.

I was really excited for “Mood Indigo” not so much because of Gondry but because of its cast which features some of France’s most recognized performers. Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, and Omar Sy bring a huge spark to this strange romance fantasy, but they can only do so much. Gondry goes all-in creating his surreal Dali-esque dreamworld. He bombards us with it and within the narrow bounds of a two hour movie it’s just too much.


The film is based on “Froth on the Daydream”, a 1947 novel by Boris Vian. It tells the story of a wealthy and happy man named Colin (Duris). He loves his life. He loves the food and company of his cook Nicolas (Sy). He has a wonderful and trustworthy best friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh). Gondry shows us Colin’s life through a wild assortment of off-the-wall but playful imagery and gadgetry. This is important because it is truly intended to be a visual representation of Colin’s state of mind. The visuals grow more whimsical and colorful when he meets and falls in love with Chloé (Tautou). The two hit it off and in no time are married.

Colin and Chloé’s relationship drive the remainder of the film both visually and narratively. The two are madly in love and Gondry visualizes it in a number of vibrantly wacky and bizarre ways. But that changes when Chloé is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Not only does the story take on a more depressing tone, by the visuals go from bright and playful to dreary and bleak. It’s a direct reflection of Colin’s mood and state of mind as his life literally decays right before our eyes. It’s a fascinating stylistic approach that shows Gondry’s insanely cool creative side.


At the same time it is Gondry’s wild surreal world that is the movie’s biggest flaw. While the craziness does a great job of interpreting feelings it also goes overboard and becomes an annoyance. Gondry never pulls back and he sometimes smothers his story with his relentless imagery. Quite frankly some of it made no sense and came across as indulgent. I appreciate the film telling a good story in a very unorthodox way, but I often found myself distracted from the main story and at times uninterested in what Gondry was doing. Too much is too much.

Gondry’s stylistic excesses hurt the film but they don’t hurt the performances. Duris and Tautou have always been able to act with charisma and charm and it’s no different here. Both gracefully move from jaunty and merry to downcast and broken. But I had the most fun watching Omar Sy. He may be the most unique character in the film and Sy gives one of the best supporting performances of 2014. These three are joys to watch and they are the film’s most appealing components. As with the moving and poignant story, their performances sometimes get overshadowed by Gondry’s relentless visual wackiness. That’s unfortunate because ultimately that is what keeps “Mood Indigo” from being as good as it could have been.


“The Da Vinci Code” – 1 STAR


For the sake of full disclosure, it took two sittings for me to get through Ron Howard’s “The Da Vinci Code” and I felt that was an accomplishment. I was never interested in seeing this movie but finally caught up with it over a three day span. There were several things that pushed me away from it from Tom Hanks’ hideous hairdo too much more glaring flaws. As you can probably guess, the Hanks mop is the least of the film’s unforgivable vices. “The Da Vinci Code” is a sloppy, lazy, and amateurish production from a director that should know better.

“The Da Vinci Code” was based on Dan Brown’s wildly popular 2003 novel of the same name. It reportedly cost $6 million to obtain the rights for the film with Howard signed to direct and Academy Award winning writer Akiva Goldsmith handling the screenplay. Goldsmith is hard to figure out. He’s done some brilliant work including “A Beautiful Mind” and “Cinderella Man” but he’s also written some real stinkers. But even with some questionable work on his resume, I wasn’t expecting the lazy and amateurish results that we get here.


Hanks plays a noted religious symbology professor named Robert Langdon who is doing a series of lectures in Paris, France. He finds himself the prime suspect in a grisly murder inside the Louvre museum. He’s asked to come to the crime scene by a suspicious police captain (Jean Reno). While there Langdon discovers that he has been left a message from the victim that points him towards a mysterious cryptex, a device containing a message that could hold world-changing secrets. He’s joined by Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), a French cryptologist and granddaughter of the victim. The two find themselves in the crosshairs of the French police and a mysterious religious sect, both trying to get their hands on the cryptex.

The big revelation turns out to be a possible death blow to Christianity and the Catholic Church. It’s told through a swirl of long-winded religious conspiracy theories, absurd revisionist history, and anti-Christian nonsense that serves as nothing more than insulting shock value. Most of this is revealed to Robert and Sophie by Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), an old acquaintance of Robert’s and a Holy Grail enthusiast. He believes many of the secrets are hidden in Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, secrets that the cryptex can corroborate. Blah, blah, blah. Honestly it’s all so bloated, preposterous, and boring.

Goldsmith’s script is simply terrible. There’s not an ounce of creativity or subtlety in his storytelling. Everything is so contrived and by the books. There are numerous scenes of tedious exposition meant for nothing more but to fill in the audience on certain bits of information. There’s nothing wrong with that except for the fact they’re so poorly written and we know what they’re there for. This is also a movie loaded with ridiculous conveniences. So many times the story is advanced by a simple convenience that allows our heroes to either escape or find the next clue. Some of them are so lame that I found myself laughing out loud.

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I could go on about the writing but I can’t let Ron Howard off the hook either. This thing is an utter mess. It’s a thriller without thrills. The action sequences have no pop whatsoever. The dialogue is as stale and lifeless as you’ll find. His movement from scene to scene feels more like an assembly line production. And his dull and dank color palette gives the movie a dark and unattractive look. I mean neither Paris or London have ever looked worse on screen. Howard has shown in the past he knows how to direct a picture. I have no idea what happened here but a lot of the movie’s problems can be put on him.

I still can’t imagine how “The Da Vinci Code” made over $750 million at the box office. That’s something that boggles my mind. Maybe it was the controversial label that it received and deservedly so. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t because this is a good film. Even without its eye-rolling, anti-Christian shock value, “The Da Vinci Code” is a movie filled with cheap shortcuts, head-shakingly bad dialogue, and poor visual decisions throughout. It’s a shame it turned out this way because there was a good cast in place. But this just shows that you can have a good cast but if you throw them crap the result is going to be crap. Such is “The Da Vinci Code”.


movie_theatre - Phenom 5

Years ago as I began to grow as a movie fan I opened myself up to foreign cinema. I can’t express how thankful I am for that decision. And while I still don’t see as many foreign language films as I should, over the years foreign cinema has introduced me to some truly great movies. From the far east to the middle east, from South America to Central Europe, there are wonderful filmmakers making movies all over the globe. While I’ve dipped my toes into the films of many different countries, I’ve found French cinema to be one of my favorites. So I thought it would be fun to look at five phenomenal French language films. This is the first Phenomenal 5 dedicated to foreign cinema but it won’t be the last. Now there are many French films that I haven’t seen so it would be silly to call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these five French movies are nothing short of phenomenal.

MON ONCLE#5 – “MON ONCLE”  Jacques Tati only made six feature-length movies but that’s all it took to establish him as a fantastic filmmaker. “Mon Oncle” is the consummation of Tati’s many talents all wrapped into one delightful creation. The film features Tati’s signature style of visual storytelling and comedy as well as his familiar critiques of materialism, consumerism, and social elitism. But at its heart is a very funny story featuring one of the most lovable characters you’ll find – socially awkward but certainly lovable. Monsieur Hulot’s sweet and friendly demeanor is infectious and he’s always content regardless of his state. But perhaps my favorite thing about this film is the incredible sense of community that Tati is able to capture. Hulot’s working class neighborhood is filled with life, energy, and an assortment of entertaining characters. Those things also perfectly describe “Mon Oncle”.

#4 – “BREATHLESS”BREATHLESS – Acclaimed director Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature-length film was “Breathless” from 1960. Long considered one of the signature movies from the French New Wave, “Breathless” remains to this day a highly influential film. In the movie Godard went to great lengths to buck the traditional trends in filmmaking by using several innovative visual techniques now forever associated with the French New Wave. But “Breathless” isn’t all about style. There’s also a very good story born out of the social climate of 1960 Paris. At first I had a tough time gathering my thoughts on the movie. But after processing the film and looking closer at the story, it has become a true favorite of mine. Jean-Paul Belmondo and the lovely Jean Seberg are fantastic and Godard gives us some of the best street views of Paris. Groundbreaking and highly entertaining.

MR HULOT#3 – “MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY – I really want there to be variety in every Phenomenal 5 I do, but for this list I couldn’t leave off either if these two Jacques Tati classics, the aforementioned “Mon Oncle” and “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”. “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” is my favorite Tati film and one of my favorite comedies of all time. Every ounce of Tati’s creative genius is on display in this film. As a director he has an incredible eye for structuring each scene and capturing each moment. In front of the camera as Mr. Hulot he brings out the comic brilliance of legends such as Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd. “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” is a very visual comedy with a heavy emphasis on sight gags and perfectly timed humor. There are so many great laughs in this simple but hilarious picture and it’s a profound example of how true comedy can be done without the gimmicks and clichés we often see today.

#2 – “AMELIE”AMELIE – One of the most delightful French films I have ever scene is “Amelie” and delightful is the perfect word for it. It’s the story of a shy and reserved waitress and all of the quirky individuals that make up her everyday life. She’s a lonely soul who tries to overcome it through her playful imagination. The perfectly cast Audrey Tautou is magnificent as Amelie who lives her life in beautifully filmed Montmartre. But there’s also the wonderful assortment of side characters that give this film such life. There’s the mysterious painter neighbor, her wacky cafe coworkers and regular customers, the mean jerk of a grocer. I can go on and on but regardless of who they are, Amelie has a positive impact on their lives. There is so much charm mixed with laugh-out-loud hilarity that permeates this entire picture. Gorgeous cinematography, brilliant writing, and pitch-perfect performances. “Amelie” is a joy.

The 400 Blows (1959)#1 – “THE 400 BLOWS” – Much like “Breathless”, Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” was a pivotal film in the French New Wave. It’s arguably the most powerful movie about adolescence and it’s an intensely personal film for the acclaimed director. Based on Truffaut’s own childhood, “The 400 Blows” looks at the life of young Antoine in early 1950’s Paris. He’s viewed as a troublemaker by the adults in his life and he finds the streets to be his only refuge. There are several stinging and uncomfortable scenes but all of them lead to the final shot which is one of the most potent in film history. There is such feeling and emotional pop throughout as we see this challenging and often times difficult world through young Antoine’s eyes. There’s also an undeniable technique and style behind the movie’s visual presentation. It’s an amazing expression of Truffaut’s vision and when combined with the brilliant screenplay the result is a glorious piece of cinema history.

So there are my five picks for the most phenomenal films in French cinema. Agree or disagree – please leave you thoughts below. Also be watching throughout the next several days as I review several of these and other French films on the site.