That the 48th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival began with the international premiere of Michel Gondry's surreal Mood Indigo and ended with a Jury Prize for Ben Wheatley's psychedelic A Field In England should give you an idea of how this year's event turned out. Though it didn't want for Hollywood names – Oliver Stone and John Travolta flew in to accept the annual Crystal Globe For Outstanding Contribution To World Cinema – KV proved once again to be a festival of discovery and a good place to root out international movies that can no longer find a berth at Cannes.
Mood Indigo was widely believed to be headed to the Riviera this year, until it was announced that it would be premiering in France almost a month before the festival started. The film was not a great success there, and it's not hard to see why its producers chose to keep it away from the Croisette – although it is frequently quite jaw-droppingly brilliant, Gondry's latest is somewhat relentless in its invention, and those not open to his DIY aesthetic may not be so partial to its brow-beating whimsy. I liked it, with some reservations, and I'm quite heartened to hear that the director may possibly be trimming some of its hefty 125-minute running time for the upcoming UK release.
It helps, even if you haven't read it, to know that Mood Indigo is based on Boris Vian's untranslatable 1947 novel L'Ecume Des Jours (literally The Foam Of The Day), a novel about a rich playboy called Colin (Romain Duris) who falls in love with the beautiful Chloe (Audrey Tautou), only to have his idyllic lifestyle shattered when she falls ill with a strange malady. This really all there is to it, since Gondry puts all his energies not into the narrative but into the weird and wonderful images that approximate Vian's wordplay. Colin lives in a berserk apartment which he shares with his manservant Nicolas (Omar Sy) and a mouse (which lives in a perfect small-scale replica of Colin's home), and the entire place is a W Heath Robinson illustration brought madly to life. And unusually for a film mired in surrealism, the visuals actually do live up to the intent; some memorable scenes include Colin and his friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) enjoying a philosophy book in liquid form, and dancing “le biglemoi” – a slow, smoochy dance in which ones legs get longer and longer.
The film hits its high watermark at about an hour in, and never really comes down again. Which ought to sound like a compliment, but some decompression is needed, even just a breather. Instead, Mood Indigo just carries on and carries on, getting bleaker and bleaker and bleaker... Personally, I liked its ambition but this increasingly morbid second half will not appease anyone lured into the cinema by the presence of Tautou and a wacky premise that suggests a sequel of sorts to Amelie. Nevertheless, it will have its admirers, principally readers of cult French literature and hardcore Gondry fans with a stomach for something a little stronger than his usual.