The Science Of Sleep

Director    Michel Gondry
Starring    Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsborough, Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou, Pierre Vaneck
Release    September 22nd 2006 (US) February 16th (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


19th February 2007

Michel Gondry is very possibly a genius. Michel Gondry is also very possibly cursed by his gift. A visionary in the truest sense of the word, he seems incapable of making an ordinary film - just take a look at the music videos on his CV and marvel at the amount of originality and ingenuity squeezed into mere three minute pop songs. Unfairly overlooked in the rave reviews of 2004's Eternal Sunshine - Charlie Kaufman merely wrote the script, the idea and director's credit were Gondry's - he's back in the hot seat once more, this time directing his own script in a film with obvious personal overtones. It's a visual tour de force as expected, but beneath the flashy exterior lies a beating yet lovesick heart.

The Science Of Sleep is first and foremost about the world of dreams (some might say that's where Gondry's head is at 50% of the time) although it shares many of the same sentiments as Eternal Sunshine, namely (un)requited love and the world of the subconscious. Stéphane (Bernal) is a daydreamer extraordinaire, a man who's unable to distinguish between dreams and reality. The son of a landlady, he moves into his mother's apartment block next-door to like-minded spirit Stéphanie (Gainsborough) and the two begin a strained friendship that's tempered by his inability to cope with reality and her reluctance to commit to anything romantic. Meanwhile, Stéphane struggles at his new job at a calendar company, his creativity wasted on a boring manual labour: he's fine with the fantastical, but retreats inside his head when faced with the mundane.

[gallery]Stéphane and Stéphanie's will-they-won't-they relationship forms the crux of the film, and the pair have an almost childlike chemistry between them that makes you genuinely care about their fate. Bernal makes for an endearing lead - all smiles and pouts - and quickly wins you over with his bizarre inventions, including glasses that let you see real-life in 3D and a time machine that transports you one second into the past or the future. Gainsborough is a more mature influence but inside lies a little girl that longs to play with the carefree Stéphane, whose continuous attempts to woo his new lady love range from the sweet to the stalker-esque. It makes for awkward viewing at times - Stéphane proposes marriage several times and throws strops like an infant - but it's certainly a great deal more interesting than the cut-and-dry relationships found in more mainstream cinema. It helps that the two leads have charm to spare.

It's when Stéphane retreats to his dreams that Gondry really starts to enjoy himself. The sequences are sublimely crafted with a lo-fi charm that's utterly spellbinding, whether Stéphane is fighting off his work colleagues with giant hands (a la Foo Fighter's Everlong video) or escaping from the police in a car made from cardboard. The nerve centre of Stéphane's dreamworld takes place in a TV studio, where he cooks up the night's entertainment and steps into a blue-screen in front of the camera to enjoy it. Thankfully, Stéphane's dreams are about as close to real dreams as you can get - like the man himself says, they're a mixture of the day's events, random thoughts, loved ones and memories - so there's no limit to the lunacy that lies within that wonderful noggin of his. It's no wonder Stéphane doesn't want to leave the lush meadows and gorgeous cityscapes of his mind behind each morning.

Ultimately though, you get the feeling that this is a movie that means more to Michel Gondry than it does to anyone else. The director has stated that the movie is based on his own experiences - Stéphane lives in Gondry's old apartment, and like his main character, he also worked for a calendar company. It's a movie with Gondry's fingerprints all over it, and while it's a delight to get inside the man's head and poke around for a few hours, it can at times feel more like a personal collection of his random thoughts and ideas with a narrative bolted on rather than a fully-formed screenplay. The Science Of Sleep echoes Stéphane's predicament - a man who wants to play all the time and never work - and translates it into film. You imagine Gondry to be of a similar disposition; if he could dream all day and never wake up, you suspect he'd be much happier.

Still, The Science Of Sleep is truly a delight at times, a startlingly original piece of work that's not as accessible as Eternal Sunshine but is every bit as magnificent when in full flow. It's typically beautiful to look at, but once again, it's that beating heart and that vibrant imagination that wins you over.

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