“If it’s dark or bright, I’ve got to go where you are” - Duke Ellington’s ‘Chlo-E’
Mood Indigo was a novel published in 1947, and if read with that in mind will raise an eyebrow to the genius that was Boris Vian. Vian died in 1959 at the ripe age of 39 at a screening of I Will Spit on Your Graves, another film that had been adapted from his literary works.
Apparently, he was so upset at seeing his work be butchered, he went into cardiac arrest and died in his seat. A great connoisseur of jazz, Vian was the French liaison for Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, a published writer of jazz reviews, as well as a songwriter. Ellington and Vian were so close, in fact, that Duke was named godfather to Boris’ daughter, Carole.
Michael Gondry, of “Eternal Sunshine” fame, was the perfect director to put this story on the big screen. His style of surreal and kaleidoscope cinematography lended itself to doing justice to Vian’s story of melancholical love. Yes, I made that word up. The two leads are amazing in their roles, with Chloe being played by Audrey Tatou, Amelie herself. The film begins with Colin, a self-absorbed bachelor with enough “doublezoons” to allow him to pursue a life without work, discovers that his lawyer and best friend have fallen in love. Colin exclaims that he demands to fall in love, as well.
It doesn’t take long before Colin runs into Chloe at a gathering and grabs her attention by asking if she had even been played by Duke Ellington, referring to Duke’s song, “Chlo-E.” Bad joke, Colin. They dance for a bit and plan a first date that sets the tone of their courtship with a swan ride over the cityscape of Paris. It’s a whirlwind story of true love leading all the way to a drag race at the church with cars that have crosses for wheels in hilarious stop-motion, with the victors being married. Shortly into the honeymoon, through a broken window caused by Colin throwing his shoe, a water lily finds its way inside Chloe and begins to sprout in her lung. The first half of the film, with all of its fun and fancy free, could not have been a more profound contrast to the next hour.
As the flower flourishes in Chloe, the world around the lovers begins to lose it luster, with their home receding in size, the colors draining from all around. Colin’s money is disappearing at an alarming pace, and one cannot escape the dread of knowing the inevitable is nigh. The absolute highlight for me, was watching Colin running away from his manifested shadow. Bobby Few, jazz legend, makes a cameo and purchases Colin’s invention, a ‘pianoctail’. It makes the companion cocktail to the corresponding song played on the keys. It truly highlights the wondrous world that is part futuristic, part Luddite. We see the representation of how a financial struggle can feel as though the world is caving in on you. Eventually Chloe succumbs to her illness, and whatever world Colin has left, is gone forever.
It wasn’t until his untimely death that Boris’ fictional novels would reach critical success. None moreso than Mood Indigo. To say this book is eccentric would be the understatement of the century. The story presented is the embodiment of whimsical, the personification of fanciful. The woman I would go on to marry suggested I watch this on our first date. After watching it bolstered my intuition that she was the one.
Tim Bynum is a Jones County native who lives in Laurel with his wife, Lauren. An avid film fan since 1985, keep up with him at thefilmsnob.reviews and on Instagram and Facebook: @the_filmsnob.