Speaking from a very personal standpoint, this writer must admit that Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 ode to Paris and everything beautiful in life, “Amelie,” was the film that completely changed his view of what cinema could be. Therefore, it is an absolute favorite. The reason why that film is so outstanding is due in part to an unforgettable performance by one of most important and versatile French actresses working today, Audrey Tautou. In that film, her earnest desire to manufacture happiness out of beautiful memories and second chances rings with heartwarming innocence.
After playing an array of incredibly diverse women in less magical films, Tautou returns to the fantasy world in full form with Michel Gondry’s visually astonishing “Mood Indigo,” based on the novel L'écume des jours. As Chloe, she plays opposite another French star Romain Duris ("Populaire","Russian Dolls"), in a love story that thrives on gorgeous surreal imagery and the actors’ willingness to be immersed in the endless roads of imagination. Uniting Gondry’s unparalleled keen eye for creating dream-like realms and Audrey Tautou’s special talent to shine with luminous honesty in every scene, “Mood Indigo” is bound to mesmerize American audiences.
The delightful French actress spoke to us from Paris about Michel Gondry’s singular methods, the challenges of working in such a peculiar film, and the power of love stories.
Carlos Aguilar: How did you get involved in this project? Where you originally a fan of the novel or of Michel Gondry's films?
Audrey Tautou: I read the novel when I was a teenager. I knew the story and I love it since then. I was very happy, and very joyous, about the way Michel Gondry would make this dream come true. When I say dream I’m talking about this very surreal story.
Aguilar: How difficult is it for you to play a character like this in a fantasy in comparison to roles more grounded on reality?
Audrey Tautou: Everything revolving around my character such as the set design, the accessories, and everything that we shot was very helpful. The only thing that was very new for me was to shoot with a director who is unpredictable. You don’t know where the camera is going. It is very difficult to act without preparing myself, and I think that’s what he wanted. He wanted us to forget the camera, and not to act composed. Sometimes what happened on the set was unplanned. For example, we were shooting a scene and suddenly about 20 children came into the street close to the set, and he [Michel Gondry] asked them to be in the scene and we had to play with them.
Everything that was happening around the set was a source of inspiration for Michel. He wanted everything and everybody to be always moving. His energy was great and very new for me. I would say that for the first time I had no idea what I had done with Chloe in my interpretation. I had no idea if I had done a great scene or if it was bad because I couldn’t look at myself.
Aguilar: Was there any green screen work involved? Does this make it more challenging than having everything physically present?
Audrey Tautou: There was no green screen involved. That was also what was so special while shooting, because today nobody shoots like this anymore. Every object or special effect was done in reality by a team of animators who were filming them second by second on set. It was great because we had everything in front of our eyes and in our hands. Everything was physically there!
When we did the wedding in the aquarium, we were really underwater in an aquarium. When we took trip and had little shopping session flying on the “cloud,” we were really inside this little cloud up in the air, it was a little scary [Laughs].
Aguilar: How was working with Romain Duris, who travels into this strange world with you?
Audrey Tautou: I love working with Romain, I’ve known him for a few years now because we have done two movies together before. He is a great actor, very talented. It is a great pleasure to work with him because you can feel that he really listens to you and he reacts to a lot of sensitivities. It is always great to work with talented actors.
Aguilar: Besides all the whimsical elements, "Mood Indigo" is essentially a love story, a very unique love story. What do you think makes it so special?
Audrey Tautou: It’s a unique and special love story because Colin and Chloe share a very pure love, an absolute love. Their love makes you think nothing wrong can happen to them. What happens to them is really unfair, but it is also very touching and very romantic. For me this love story is on pair with “Romeo & Juliet”, it is a very different movie, but it is still a love story. There is something very moving and powerful about something dark coming and corrupting a very pure heart.
Aguilar: When you read the screenplay was it clear that color would be such as important part of the director’s vision?
Audrey Tautou: He had told me he had this idea for the color to turn into black & white. It was a nice metaphor that he had, which you couldn’t have when you read the book. It is exactly the same idea, and it is in exactly the same spirit as what you have in the story, but with all the decorations and the set design becoming dirty and darker, full of this vegetation in the room.
This comes from that idea about the colors. Then to extent this metaphor to the realm of cinema, the images are used to explore it further. It goes even deeper into the metaphor about how this love is dying, Chloe is dying, everything is dying and even the color of the film is starting to die to become black and white, and sad. I think that’s a great approach.
Aguilar: Paris is depicted in a magical way in many films, among there are some that you've acted in such as Jeunet's "Amelie" and, of course, "Mood Indigo." What is so magical about a city like Paris?
Audrey Tautou: What makes the city magical is the talent of the directors and the way they can elicit a lot of poetry from this city. Of course, Paris has a great aura of its own, but it is also the way they film it that adds poetry, I’d say. This allows Paris to be even prettier, more poetic, and more romantic. There are so many movies that are shot in Paris, but I really think it is about Jean Pierre Jeunet and Michel Gondry's universes, styles and sensitivity.
Aguilar: What would you say is the biggest lesson you learned from working with Michel Gondry?
Audrey Tautou: For me the biggest lesson was not to try to control anything and jus to let myself float on the ocean of his ideas. Not to try to resist, just follow him no questions asked.
Aguilar: This is such a beautifully unique film, but what do you think people will love about "Mood Indigo"?
Audrey Tautou: I think it is romantic, and lovely, and it is something you have never seen before. There are some many ideas, fantasy, and poetry. It’s not a movie you can say “Oh I saw this movie and it is the same thing I’ve seen already a hundred times.” I think there is something very unique, special, and it is a real work of art by Michel. It is unconventional, and it brings fantasy into our world and I think that’s nice. I don’t think we have enough of that.
Aguilar: Does Audrey Tautou prefer reality or fantasy?Audrey Tautou: Ooh la la [Laughs], I think I prefer the second one. I’ve done a few movies that are in this type of “family.” They take you away from the daily routine. I like fantasy, and I like great heroines.
"Mood Indigo" opens Friday July 18th in LA (Nuart Theater) and NY (Landmark Sunshine Cinema)