The film’s best sequence ingeniously satirises German Expressionism when a huge elongated shadow comes a cropper after failing to keep up with its character frantically bolting across town. It also precedes a significant change in the film’s pace from a bonkers idiosyncratic mayhem to a much slower and more muted tone that reflects the melancholic title taken from Duke Ellington’s early jazz classic of the same name.
The early scenes are entirely in keeping with Gondry’s artistic sensibility; their wacky inventiveness pushing capitalist consumer synergy to robotic extremes – an automated piano-cum-cocktail bar concocting alcoholic beverages in accord with the musical vibe – and finding a Tatiesque sidewards view of ‘modernity’ that deceptively transcends an apparent one-liner mentality.
A delightful love story unfolds that’s so light it could blow away; gently mocking filmic shorthand as prevalent in the French Nouvelle Vague as grand Hollywood musicals. Who else but Gondry could come up with an extravagant sky high bubble car ride from a disused construction site.
And there is a fab take on French philosopher hero worship – the curse of many a film theory – where a character’s devotion to the wonderfully named Jean-Sol Partre blends a celebrity-like obsession with blind religious acceptance.
But Gondry is no match for Duke, whose music makes up much of the soundtrack, when it comes to varying a theme. As soon as a water lily grows in one of the lovers’ lungs, Gondry’s surrealism suddenly feels detached – old hat even – and the second chapter, as it were, begins to drag the more we move into a terminal illness weepy.
Audrey Tautou, doing an Audrey Hepburn routine, and an edgy Romain Duris are a better match than seemed likely as the leads. And taking on Boris Vian’s surreal/absurd 1947 novel, ‘L’Ecume des Jours’ is commendable in itself.
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