It’s a potentially thrilling collision – or collusion – of two outlandish and prolific French imaginations. Next Tuesday, the director Michel Gondry will start shooting his seventh feature “Mood Indigo,” an adaptation of novelist Boris Vian’s Surrealistic masterpiece “L’Écume des Jours” (“Froth on the Daydream”).
The stars are Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou, who previously acted together in “L’Auberge Espagnol” and “Russian Dolls” (and will join on “Chinese Puzzles” later in the year).
Following 2006’s “The Science of Dreams,” “Mood Indigo” will be only the second French-language film directed by the Versailles-born Brooklynite Gondry. His other work includes “Human Nature” (2001), “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), “Be Kind Rewind” (2008), “The Green Hornet” (2011), and “The We and the I” (recently completed). He has also directed documentaries and dozens of commercials and music videos, collaborating famously with Björk, as well as Radiohead, Beck, the White Stripes, Massive Attack, and Daft Punk, among others.
A legendary figure among the Paris intellectual elite, Vian (1920-59) wasn’t just a novelist – he also wrote plays, poems, operas, and jazz journalism. And he wasn’t just a writer. At various times during his short career, he worked as an inventor, engineer, translator, singer-songwriter, and jazz trumpeter. He was a jazz impresario, too, befriending and promoting the likes of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis in Paris. Among the films Vian acted in were “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1956) and “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (1959).
“L’Écume des Jours,” which has been published several times in English, wasn’t a success when it was published in 1947, but in Le Monde’s 1999 listing of the hundred greatest books of the 20th century, it ranks 10th. The list is topped by Albert Camus’s “The Stranger.” In 11th place is Simone de Beavoir’s “The Second Sex” and in 13th place is Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness.” Vian moved in the same circles as Camus and Sartre, whose affair with Vian’s wife Michelle Léglise-Vian ended Vian’s first marriage. His second wife was the Swiss dancer and actress Ursula Kübler.
The novel is a tragic romance about the wealthy newlyweds Colin (to be played by Duris), an inventor of the olfactory instrument the pianocktail, and Chloe (Tautou). Their bliss is destroyed when they discover during their honeymoon that she has a water lily growing in her lungs; she can only survive by being surrounded by flowers. Gondry himself will play her eccentric doctor, Mangemarche.
Omar Sy (“Untouchables”) will play Colin’s elegant manservant Nicolas, Gad Elmaleh (“Midnight in Paris”) will play Colin’s friend Chick, and Aissa Maïga has been cast as Chick’s girlfriend Alise. Chick spends all his money on books by Jean-Sol Partre – Vian’s version of Sartre – so the neglected Alise tries to stop Partre from writing, killing him when he refuses. Philippe Torreton will play Partre, Alain Chabat the real-life master chef Jules Gouffé, Charlotte Lebon an heiress in love with Colin, and Natacha Régnier a remedy seller.
The book was previously filmed in France as “The Spray of Days” in 1968 and in Japan as “Chloe” in 2001; the Russian composer Edison Denisov turned it into an opera in 1981. One imagines that the endlessly inventive Gondry will, at least in part, meta-fictionalize Vian’s story with the help of state-of-the-art image manipulation.
In addition to writing literary novels and sci-fi, Vian dashed out successful crime thrillers under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan, alleging that he, Vian, was their translator. The most famous of these, “I Spit on Your Graves,” written in 15 days, was filmed with stars Christian Marquand and Claude Berri in 1959. Agitated by the director’s interpretation, Vian, who had struggled with heart trouble all his life, suffered a cardiac arrest during a screening of the film and died shorly afterwards.