Michel Gondry's 'Mood Indigo' to open Karlovy Vary Film Festival

Once more, we'll be attending the Czech-based fest

<p>Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris in &quot;Mood Indigo.&quot;</p>

Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris in "Mood Indigo."

Credit: StudioCanal

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Cannes is still fresh enough in my mind that the idea of diving into another film festival right now is ever-so-slightly panic-inducing, but I've got over three weeks to get in the mood for the admittedly far more relaxed charms of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic, which kicks off on June 28.

For the second straight year, the festival is kindly hosting Hitfix, and I'm looking forward to delving into a programme that, in addition to choice cherry-picking from Cannes and the like, offers an exciting spread of less exposed European and US indie cinema. Last year, it proved a particularly happy hunting ground for smaller films that would eventually be submitted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar consideration.

Today, Karlovy Vary unveiled the first phase of this year's programme, including selections for the narrative and documentary Competitions. Many of them are unfamiliar, though the festival has secured a high-profile Opening Film in Michel Gondry's "Mood Indigo," a fantastical, dark-edged romantic comedy starring Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou and Omar Sy.

The French-language film, an adaptation of Boris Vian's cult 1947 novel "Froth on the Daydream," has already been released at home and in several other European territories -- but is still awaiting a US distributor. Considering the arthouse name value attached to it, you'd expect that to change in due course, though "Mood Indigo" isn't the easiest sell. Though highly celebrated in France, Vian's novel hasn't travelled significantly, and its fatalistic tone and dense surrealism -- however perfectly tailored to Gondry's sensibility -- sets out to charm and challenge audiences in equal measure.

I've seen the film, and am happy to report that it's a return to form of sorts for Gondry -- whose diverting but defiantly minor school-bus character study "The We and the I" premiered at Cannes last year and got a minimal US release in March. This is much more in the richly visualized, melancholy-romantic vein of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and, in particular, "The Science of Sleep." (It's not as good as the former, but what is?) Viewer mileage will vary when it comes to its handcrafted whimsy, but most will appreciate the fact that Gondry has left the stifling studio-film disappointment of "The Green Hornet" comfortably behind him.

I'll write more about the film at a later date, but it's a suitably bright, starry curtain-raiser for a festival where more austere fare tends to dominate the lineup. Among the higher-profile titles in the narrative Competition are "A Field in England," an oddball English Civil War drama from up-and-coming director Ben Wheatley ("Sightseers," "Kill List"). Expected by some to show up in Cannes, it will instead have its world premiere at Karlovy Vary days before its UK opening -- an experimental multi-platform release that will see it out in theaters, on TV and on VOD simultaneously.

Also in the lineup is US indie director Lance Edmands's Maine-set drama "Bluebird," starring John Slattery and Amy Morton, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. A local entry, "Honeymoon," comes from veteran Czech director Jan Hrebejk, who scored a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination for "Divided We Fall" in 2000. You can check out the lineup as it currently stands here; look out for my coverage from June 29.

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Guy Lodge
Critic
Guy Lodge is a South African-born critic and sometime screenwriter. In addition to his work at In Contention, he is a freelance contributor to Variety, Time Out, Empire and The Guardian. He lives well beyond his means in London.
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UPDATED: MARCH 2, 2014