There’s never a dull visual moment in director Michel Gondry‘s new film, an ambitious albeit grinding attempt to adapt a beloved novel from his youth.
The jazz-like surrealism of L’Écume des Jours by Boris Vian (the author was an inventor, musician, critic and Duke Ellington was his daughter’s godfather) ensured its place on those lists of unfilmable tomes. A tragic love story that could be interpreted as class satire, Gondry’s brand of demolition derby whimsy gets in his own way.
Colin (Romain Duris) and Chloé (Audrey Tautou) meet effervescent cute in a postcard Paris as envisioned by a Dada-influenced Rube Goldberg. Colin has sufficient funds (for the moment) to dance at parties and hang with friends obsessed with the philosopher Jean-Sol Partre. In his vintage train car apartment equipped with piano-octail, eels writhing from spigots to be served for dinner and a drag racing mouse, Colin grinningly bemoans the lack of love in his life then meets Chloe. After a whirlwind affair, they marry and Chloe is diagnosed with a rare wasting illness. A water lily has taken root in one of her lungs. She must be surrounded by other flowers to scare it into withering. She can ingest only small amounts of water herself. Colin’s funds are depleted and he burns through dystopian nightmares of employment to pay for Chloe’s treatment.
Anchored to truly solid material, whether his own (Human Nature, We and the I, Science of Sleep) or others (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – screenplay by Charlie Kaufman), allows Gondry to up the ante of his post-modern Mélièsian vision. Perhaps Gondry made the film he wanted, yet even in its extended cut we just know Gondry was trying to imbue the film with the tender melancholy of Colin and Chloe’s love and that all along the point was sadness and never satire. Yet we end up so distanced from whatever we’re supposed to feel about these sweet-souled riches oisifs that when the film’s palette washes out and it slips into “nothing really matters” existentialism it’s too late. If the audience were lost before in the director’s pellmell artistry, we’re definitely lost now in feeling nothing for these characters.
Even after damning by faint praise (or no praise) you should still see the film. Like Wes Anderson, Gondry’s manic sense of composition and dreamy, workman-like wonder would be a bargain at twice the price. Hard as it is to stay on your feet in this dash through Gondry’s wonder emporium, in these days of flat out (or just plain flat) green screen cinematic marvels, it’s always refreshing to see this Gallic tinkerer give a damn. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 11/11/14