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Posts Tagged ‘annoying’

Me, in the office, the other day:

‘You know, can’t decide whether to go and see Mood Indigo or the Inbetweeners sequel.’

Bloke what inhabits next desk: ‘Mood Indigo? What’s that then?’

‘You know, that French arthousey thing. We saw the trailer before Guardians of the Galaxy last week, remember?’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, it had all that surreal stuff in it… Audrey Tatou… the couple getting married under water…’

‘Oh God yeah… who is it?’

‘That French guy… Michel… er… Michel…’

‘Oh, Michel Gondry. You kind of know what you think you’re going to get from his films, they’re very…’

‘Yeah. But I want to see what the reviews are like on Inbetweeners 2, plus it’s probably going to be packed out on the first day. I remember going to see Cowboys and Aliens the night Inbetweeners came out and some guy was trying to sneak his grandchildren into see it even though they were clearly underage.’

‘Yeah, well, be interesting to see if they take the opportunity to do some jokes about the fact it’s a bunch of guys in their late twenties playing teenagers. There’s some potential there for comedy.’

‘Mmm, not sure. The Inbetweeners does ironic, it doesn’t really do knowing.’

My respect for Bloke on Next Desk is considerable, and was so even before I learned he once met Jason Statham socially (used to work with Mr Statham’s one-time girlfriend), but I remain to be convinced of the wisdom of making The Inbetweeners 2, let alone going to see it, so off I trotted to see Mood Indigo. If nothing else this proves that my unerring instinct for making bad decisions is still fully operational.

moodindigo

Mood Indigo is based on a 1947 novel written by Boris Vian, the English translation of which is various entitled Froth on the Daydream or Foam on the Daze. You may be wondering just what any of those titles actually mean, in which case I wish you good luck with your wonderment, as I am supremely unequipped to provide any kind of explanation.

Romain Duris plays Colin, a carefree young independently-wealthy Parisian. He enjoys spending time with his philosophy-loving friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) and his private chef Nicolas (Omar Sy). On discovering Chick and Nicolas have both embarked on the adventure that is romance, Colin decides to do the same, and after meeting the charmingly quirky Chloe (Audrey Tatou, who’s basically giving the same performance she always gives in every film she’s ever made), they embark on a breathless, whirlwind love affair. But when Chloe falls seriously ill with a life-threatening condition, it threatens to undermine their happiness forever…

So what, you may be thinking, that doesn’t sound particularly distinctive: standard issue romantic weepy, so what. Fair enough, the substance of the story is nothing particularly unusual. But there is a sense in which the actual plot of Mood Indigo is the least notable thing about it, for this is how a fairly typical scene from early in the film plays out:

Nicolas has baked Colin and Chick an enormous decorated cake. To make space to allow him to serve it, he clears the existing plates and other crockery off the table with a shovel. Colin is delighted with the cake and insists Nicolas joins them in partaking of it. Nicolas initially demurs. Then the front door rings, and as usual this is a trigger for the doorbell to turn into a six-legged mechanical insect which scuttles across the floor. Somebody whacks the doorbell-insect with a blunt implement, causing it to split into many smaller doorbell-insects which pursue and devour each other until the last survivor resumes its place on the wall. The person at the door turns out to be Nicolas, who has gone off duty to eat the cake.

The cake is cut and proves to be stuffed with pink cotton wool, along with a couple of bottles of the scent of famous philosopher Jean-Sol Partre (no, Michel, stop: my sides). Chick is a massive Partre fan and guzzles down one of the bottles eagerly. Meanwhile Colin has received a telegram from Chloe arranging a date, and…

Oh, you get the idea. The wild visual invention and whimsical surrealism of Mood Indigo is, well, relentless. My heart began to sink before the end of the opening credits as I realised just exactly what kind of a film this was going to be: probably about the moment when I realised Colin shared his apartment with a mouse, realised by an actor in an utterly unconvincing mouse costume. Then came the moment when it was revealed that Colin’s preferred method of emptying his bathtub is to drill through the bottom and allow the water to irrigate the plants in the flat below, or the revelation that his great invention is the pianocktail, a musical instrument that prepares a drink based on what tune you play on it.

Now, please don’t get the idea that I’m against visual flair or style or wild invention in films: of course I’m not. And, on some level, the sheer work-rate of Mood Indigo in this department is quite impressive. But there’s so much of it, and most of it just feels like directorial showing-off rather than anything meaningful. Gondry isn’t using the surrealism to illustrate the mood of the characters or the theme of the story – it just seems to be there because he thinks it’s clever or funny. Maybe this is a French thing, because the two French guys on the end of my row were killing themselves laughing most of the way through. I think I cracked a smile maybe two or three times all the way through.

The whimsy doesn’t even let up as the story goes on and the mood of the piece turns much darker than you might expect: the film’s unorthodoxy extends beyond surrealism, to ripping up the traditional romantic-comedy-weepy story-structure. The problem is that I found the studied non-naturalism of the story made it impossible for me to engage with it on an emotional level – unless you count being irked to the point of severe annoyance by endless, pointless surreal sight-gags. As a result I actually found it quite a struggle to stay awake to the end of Mood Indigo, which isn’t something that often happens to me, and never during a film that I’m genuinely enjoying.

Then again, this is a film from a very particular culture, and the product of a extremely distinctive sensibility. Your mileage may vary. But for me, the problem isn’t just that the visual style doesn’t always suit the story, it’s the two are frequently pulling in opposite directions, crippling Mood Indigo as a genuine story, as opposed to a collection of extravagant visual quirks. Not that this necessarily guarantees that Inbetweeners 2 will be a better film: but one way or another, I can’t imagine it being close to as annoying as Mood Indigo.

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Hmmm – a slight confession. It’s an awful thing for a film-loving Englishman to have to confess to, but quite often I have a bit of a problem getting Mike Leigh and Ken Loach mixed up. Not so much in terms of their current work, but more when it comes to the back catalogue. I know that, in principle, the difference between the styles of the two men is very straightforward – if it’s fiercely committed, socially conscious, openly left-of-centre stuff (quite possibly featuring amateur performers and scenes depicting meetings) then it’s a Ken Loach movie, whereas if it’s acutely-observed, performance-driven and bittersweetly comic slice-of-life stuff (or, alternately, a Gilbert and Sullivan biopic), then you know that Mike Leigh is your man.

Being a ranting lefty ideologue myself I am naturally more of a Loach follower, but I try to keep an open mind, and someone recently lent me Leigh’s well-received 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky, an (would you believe it) acutely-observed, performance-driven and bittersweetly comic slice-of-life drama about modern London life. Hmmm.

Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, a primary school teacher living a fairly carefree existence, spending her time enjoying herself with her friends, trampolining (this is not a euphemism), and… oh, I don’t know, all sorts of BoHo stuff I expect, for she is quite clearly a Free Spirit. Then her bike is nicked, which prompts her to learn to drive. Unfortunately her instructor is Scott (Eddie Marsan), an extremely uptight and fastidious teacher, much afflicted with unreconstructed attitudes and worryingly prone to believe in any old nonsense he reads on the internet.

Needless to say the two do not get on, and… Well, to be honest, the thing about bittersweetly comic slice-of-life dramas is that they are not overburdened with what you’d actually describe as a plot. This film is not short on incident, but neither is there much sense of progression beyond the driving instruction scenes (which do not make up a great deal of the film).

I borrowed this film from a colleague who pitched it to me on the strength of it being an interesting disquisition on different styles of teaching (we are both teachers ourselves) and I can see how, if you put your head on one side and squint, this is sort of the case. Many of the characters in this film are teachers of one sort or another, and they do approach it in different ways – Poppy is very touchy-feely and intuitive, her flatmate (Alexis Zegerman) somewhat less so, while Poppy’s flamenco teacher (Karina Fernandez) is much stricter but at the same time very motivating. Scott, on the other hand, just invokes bizarre kabbala (he keeps chanting the name of¬†the fallen angel ‘En-Ra-Ha’) and shouts a lot. But on the other hand, the film doesn’t seem to be dealing with this in any¬†explicit way, except to say that Poppy is a good teacher because she is a nice person, but Scott is only a bad teacher because he’s had some tough experiences.

Beyond this the film really just seems to be a lot of actors Obviously Acting. People speak in hushed tones of Mike Leigh’s near-mythical method of working, using lots of improvisation, etc, etc, but here the result seems to have been quite a few self-indulgent performances. I am aware that a lot of film dialogue is not especially naturalistic, but given a choice between entertainingly witty and well-written non-naturalistic dialogue, and dialogue straining so hard to sound natural it instantly starts to sound fake (as in this film), I would choose the former.

I am aware that I am very much swimming against the critical tide in saying that I didn’t really like this film very much, but I have to call ’em as I see ’em. I also have to say that, rather than give Sally Hawkins an award, as so many people did, I would be more inclined to… actually, that’s not fair. Hawkins’ performance is convincing and coherent, and Poppy is certainly a very decent, responsible, and in many ways admirable human being. But she is also one of the most fantastically irritating main characters I have ever seen. The film publicity describes her as ‘irrepressibly cheerful’, ‘with a gift for making the most of life’. This mainly manifests itself as her being apparently incapable of shutting her mouth for more than ten seconds at a time, making a relentless string of whimsically comic (although not, to my ear, actually funny) comments, which she proceeds to laugh at herself. She floats through the film, usually with an inane grin on her face, regardless of everything else that happens. Watching her, I felt the urge to run violently amok, but as I was in my garret at the time I resisted this impulse.

It doesn’t really help that the film presents her in an unfailingly favourable light – she is apparently a good, creative, caring teacher (we see her planning an art lesson, which of course involves her putting a paper bag on her head and pretending to be a parrot), a reliable friend, she stops off on the way home at night to have long conversations with homeless people she’s never met before. I started to want her to be involved in a freak trampolining or flamenco-dancing accident which would force her to reassess her life. But no. All that happens is a visit to the physiotherapist and her hooking up with a boyfriend who is notably lacking in personality.

Oh, and some business with Scott. The weird thing is that the film clearly wants you to pity Scott – ‘You were an only child, weren’t you?’ Poppy sagely observes, later adding ‘Were you bullied at school?’ – but for me at least he came across as a much more engaging and sympathetic character than Poppy. Eddie Marsan manages to be genuinely funny, which is more than I can honestly say for Hawkins, and it was his scenes that made this film watchable at all for me (well, Zegerman is also very good in a supporting role). I would have been much more interested in seeing a film about Scott and his relationships with his various weird driving instructees, in which Poppy occasionally appeared as a hippy-dippy irritant, than this one in which Scott is a minor character, somewhat patronised by the film.

But there you go, I’m not a National Treasure of the British Film Industry, and it may be that this is just the sort of thing that happens when you mystically improvise the scripts of your films. Happy-Go-Lucky is beautifully photographed and features a couple of really nice supporting performances, and there is the occasional suggestion of interesting ideas going on deep down in the story. None of this can really make up for my overwhelmingly negative reaction to Hawkins’ performance and characterisation, though – like the rest of the film, it’s technically accomplished, but a bit of a drudge to sit through.

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