"Mood Indigo" is a surrealistic exercise in dream narrative and highly structured symbolism -- it's almost a throwback to the sophisticated visual language of pre-sound cinema, though set to pop tunes and featuring dialogue that's as skewed as the imagery. In other words, it's a Michel Gondry movie.
The story is simple: A rich, happy guy named Colin (Romain Duris) lives as though he inhabits a daydream, his needs attended to by a lawyer who doubles as a cook (Omar Sy), a best friend (Gad Elmaleh) whose chief devotion is to the work of a philosopher named Jean-Sol de Portre (Phillippe Torreton), and a tiny mouse that is, in fact, a tiny man in a mouse suit (Sacha Bourdo).
There's more than a hint that Colin might in fact be living in a daydream, or a fiction of some sort: His life is seemingly composed on the fly by an assembly line of typists who contribute a sentence or two to Colin's story as a belt of typewriters scroll past on a conveyor belt.
And what a daydream his universe is! The reality Colin inhabits is one in which human hands spin around like those of clockwork mannequins, rain and rainbows can be summoned up with a flick of a finger, and legions of workers, like full-sized homunculi, staff the Internet instead of servers and search engines. Like a child's world of imagination, everything here is in flux all the time: Doorbells scurry around like cockroaches, Duke Ellington LPs shatter into individual singles, and even bodies transform when it comes time to do dances like the "biglemoi," which seems to cause legs to grow spidery and lends dancers an uncanny ability to defy gravity.
But not all change is good: Though Colin finds himself swept up into the sublime heights of love when he meets Chloé (Audrey Tautou, veteran of anther visually inventive fable, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 film "Amélie"), his bliss is short-lived. No sooner are the two married than Chloé is stricken with a most peculiar ailment: Her right lung is invaded by a water lily. The treatment, which involves silver pellets and fresh flowers, is annihilating expensive; Colin is forced to scratch for a job, finally taking on employment at a weapons factory where "proton guns" are grown from metal acorns when nourished by body heat. Meantime, his outlandish flat -- part train, part bohemian renovation job -- has similarly been invaded, by a creeping darkness and disrepair that covers everything like mildew.
Gondry might be offering a singularly French vision of how time chews everything to bits, or how anxiety and despair infect youthful happiness over the course of a life. One moment, you're floating around Paris in a contraption that looks like a soap bubble perched in a cloud, but before you know it you're on your knees, sobbing in the mud. Then again, he might simply be following the dictates of old-fashioned fairy tales: Namely, the grim facts of love's ruin and loss are part and parcel of life. In fine European art-house style, "Mood Indigo" relishes its quirky style and magical realism, but refuses to flinch from pain and horror. It's the equal of anything from "Delicatessen" directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, or "Pan's Labyrinth" auteur Guillermo del Toro.
The 1947 Boris Vian novel Gondry and co-writer Luc Bossi have adapted into a fantasia that's part acid trip, part live action cartoon, and completely mind-bending might as well have been tailor-made for the director's complex, colorful, wildly improbably visions. Gondry mixes the same sort of imaginative enthusiasm for film's endless possibilities that infuse the works of Terry Gilliam, but he exerts far more rigor and discipline over his movies. That allows a Gondry film to remain a walking dream, a fragile state of cinematic ecstasy that Gilliam, Baz Lurhmann, and others of similar ilk seek, but don't always have the delicacy of touch to sustain.