L’écume des jours [Mood Indigo] (2013)

(On Cable TV, January 2016) I have seldom seen a film commit so thoroughly to a deliberate continuous change of tone as L’écume des jours does. Adapted from a Boris Vian novel, this film charts the sad story of an inventor who goes from love to the loss of everything. It starts with a blizzard of whimsical imagination, realized through stop-motion, bright colours, delirious details and peppy protagonists. But when a major character falls ill and dies, the entire movie gradually withers with it: the sets get smaller, the tone gets bleaker, the cinematography turns dark and monochrome and then the film … ends. As a reviewer, I was confronted with a twice-deliberate (given its literary source) downer in which the conclusion is not meant to be better than its beginning. L’écume des jours seeks to be an unpleasant experience as it goes along, as it wipes off silly smiles with the grim inevitability of death by a frozen heart. It’s a meticulously calculated downfall as well, with casual violence weaved into the fabric of the film’s imagined world well before our main characters are threatened. The star of the movie remains director Michel Gondry, bringing his highly idiosyncratic vision on-screen in a way that no other could hope to achieve. A number of memorable scenes in the film feel unique. He gets great performances by Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou (in a role fitfully reminiscent of Amélie), Omar Sy and Aïssa Maïga as a secondary character who ends up taking striking actions. L’écume des jours is a beautiful but sad, hilarious and then tragic film—I won’t blame anyone if they decide to turn it off soon after the honeymoon, secure in the knowledge that it won’t get any better.

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