The Science of Sleep
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Writer/Director Michel Gondry And Cast; The Making Of ‘The Science of Sleep’; Featurette on Lauri Faggioni, Creator of Animals and Accessories; Linda Serbu ‘Rescue Me’ Music Video.
FRENCH filmmaker Michel Gondry would probably be the first to admit that he has a livewire imagination. But cut through the weirdness and there’s plenty of heart as well.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, his breakthrough hit, may have charted very surreal territory but it was essentially a deeply romantic love story played out between Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey.
The Science of Sleep, his follow-up, charts similar territory – only it’s a little more nuts!
Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an ambitious artist with a tenuous grip on reality.
Forced to take up a mundane job making corporate calendars in Paris, Stephane finds an escape in his dream world where he’s the charismatic host of “Stephane TV”, expounding the “science of sleep” in front of cardboard cameras.
But the line between his dream world and reality begins to blur once he falls for his neighbour Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a woman who is initially charmed by his childishness but who becomes confused by his shaky grip on reality.
Unable to find the key to Stephanie’s heart while awake, Stephane subsequently searches for the answer in his dreams.
If the concept sounds weird, then watching can be weirder. Gondry’s film doesn’t always make a clear distinction between the real and imagined and occasionally succumbs to self-indulgence.
Hence, anyone who found Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind too much like hard work certainly won’t be impressed.
But for those willing to give into its charms, The Science of Sleep offers an inventive, often spellbinding experience that’s packed full of the director’s visual brilliance.
Several of the dream sequences drop in some wonderful animation (including a getaway in a cardboard car and an escape on horseback), while there are some barking mad moments featuring Bernal chasing office colleagues with big hands (a nod to the director’s pop video work) and jamming in animal costumes.
But such moments are nicely offset by the quieter, more intimate exchanges between Bernal and Gainsbourg that enable viewers to care about what’s taking place.
And it’s here that the film really wins you over, boasting some excellent performances from a cast that knows how to make you care.
Bernal, in particular, throws himself wholeheartedly into the concept and manages to make Stephane both childishly endearing and frustratingly paranoid. He is an intriguing character to be around, even when in the midst of despair.
But Gainsbourg, too, proves to be a savvy piece of casting. She’s lovely in a quiet, every day kind of way and strikes a believable balance between charming and confused.
Stephane’s co-workers are also an amusing bunch who help to provide many of the laughs.
It’s just a shame that an ambiguous ending deprives the film of the truly satisfying conclusion it deserves, suggesting that Gondry – who also wrote the screenplay – was a little too close to the material and made things a little too personal.
Criticisms aside, The Science of Sleep is an endlessly inventive experience that works in spite of its loopiness. It’s high concept cinema that doesn’t forget to touch the heart.
Running time: 106mins