Mood Indigo is a simple story of a boy and a girl.

The boy is Colin (Romain Duris), 30-something, single, and independently wealthy. He lives in a fantastic apartment, practically pulsating with life. He lives with Nicholas (Omar Sy), his confidant and cook—who concocts nothing but elaborate and intricate meals—and a mouse that stays busy keeping the place clean. While Nicholas and the mouse handle the day-to-day, Colin spends his time and money inventing a “pianocktail,” which manufactures elaborate cocktails based on the music the player chooses to play.

The girl is Chloé (Audrey Tautou), a Duke Ellington tune brought to life. Colin is smitten, but he doesn’t know what to do. Chloé is as innocent as they come and finds Colin’s bumbling adorable. They fall madly in love and marry, but while on their honeymoon, a water lily begins to grow in Chloé’s lung, and she becomes ill. Desperate to heal her, Colin sacrifices his wealth, his friends, and his lifestyle.

Directed by Michel Gondry—a crafter of handmade fairy tales and whimsical nightmares—Mood Indigo blends stop-motion animation, miniatures, and in-camera special effects to create a cinematic world that exists adjacent to the real. It reflects the emotions of this world as the moon reflects the light of the sun. It feels lived-in and meticulous but not precious.

Unlike his contemporary, Wes Anderson, Gondry approaches his handmade world with reckless abandon, often delighting in the destruction of something that was lovingly created whole cloth. But not simply a sadistic streak on Gondry’s part, just a cinematic expression of the subject matter. Examples: When Colin and Chloé begin to fall in love, a cloud car appears and “lifts them up where they belong” high above the city of Paris while a saccharine pop song plays. Conversely, when Chloé falls ill, the walls around Colin literally close in on him. The cost of caring for Chloé drains Colin’s bank account and the color from the movie. Gondry isn’t one to let his characters off easy. If they are allowed to float upon the clouds of bliss, then they are cursed to suffer life’s sorrows as well.

Like the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, Mood Indigo serves to illuminate a truth that lurks just beneath the surface: The joy of love validates all of life, and the pain of love comes from the knowledge that someday, that love will be lost.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mood Indigo (L’écume des jours) (2013)
Directed by Michel Gondry
Written by Michel Gondry, Luc Bossi
Based on the novel by Boris Vian
Produced by Luc Bossi
Starring: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Omar Sy, Gad Elmaleh, Aïssa Maïga, Charlotte Le Bon
Drafthouse Films, Not rated, Running time 94 minutes, Opened in the U.S. on July 14, 2018.

A version of the above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 22, No. 52, “Life is a melancholic matter.”