The Science of Sleep (La Science des
French director Michel
Gondry seems to be staking out a spot as the cinematic chronicler of the
fugue dream state. This seemed to have been fully explored in his
amazing last film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but here,
with his return to his native France, he shows the ideas can still go in
different, fascinating directions.
To be completely honest,
The Science of Sleep is not as good a film as Eternal Sunshine.
It misses the cracked sensibilities of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.
However, the subconscious is a pretty big place, and this movie exerts a
Gael Garcia Bernal plays Stéphane,
a Mexican-born Frenchman who returns to his Paris childhood home after years
away. He fancies himself an artist, so his mother collects a favor and
gets him a job in a printing shop which seems like a Gallic version of
Dunder Mifflin from The Office, he is surrounded by misfits and
bureaucratic red-tape and soul-crushing artistic disappointments (the bosses
are horrified by his idea for a calendar celebrating some of the great
tragedies of modern times).
When he sleeps, though,
Stéphane is host of his own cheesy talk show about his life. Through
it he can relive, reconsider and change his own life. However, the
line is quickly blurred and soon Stéphane
is not sure what is dream and what is real.
This casual disorientation
suffuses the film -- even in the simplest levels. For example, the
dialogue casually and regularly shifts between English, French and Spanish
with little apparent rhyme or reason.
Things change for him when
two young women move into the apartment across the hall. For some
lies to them and tells them he lives about 15 minutes away. (Why?
Who knows?) He immediately falls for Zoë (Emma de Caunes), the
flashier, more outgoing, nore obviously sexy one.
We know, of course, his
real soulmate is her best friend, Stéphanie
(Charlotte Gainsbourg), and not just because of their conveniently matching
is also artistic, beautiful, eccentric and just a little bit wifty. It
a little while to realize this connection, and then he has to do a lot of
backtracking to get Stéphanie
to think she isn't second choice and he isn't a creepy stalker.
Of course, the plot of
The Science of Sleep is really beside the point. The movie really
comes alive in the dream sequences, with the shifting backgrounds, the giant
hands, the cotton clouds, the running toy horses, the pirate ships and
swirling plasticine water.
In the end, it is a little
hard to say what exactly The Science of Sleep is about. That's
kind of a nice problem, though. In a world where films all too often
celebrate mediocrity, it is nice to find a movie which has completely
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Posted: August 7, 2006.