When Stéphane (Gael García Bernal, "The Motorcycle Diaries") is called to Paris by the allure of a misrepresented job he doesn't seem to have enough waking moments to woo the girl of his dreams as he investigates "The Science of Sleep."
Writer/director Michel Gondry ("Human Nature") has taken a page from scripter Charlie Kaufman's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and his own unique visual sense to serve up a lighter, fluffier companion piece. Where "Sunshine's" memories defined its characters in mind-bending fashion, "Sleep's" dreams merely reflect them, but the charismatic charm of Bernal and Gainsbourg combined with Gondry's cheeky imagination make for a whimsical romantic comedy.
Stéphane's introduction to Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg, "21 Grams," "Lemming") is Pythonesque. In trying to come to the aid of unprofessional piano movers, his hand is hurt and the piano crashes down the stairs and onto the sidewalk (it's rescued by policeman who bring it back up and proceed to entertain as part of Gondry's background noise). Stéphanie, an artistic type just like Stéphane, is embarrassed by the overt matchmaking of her friend Zoé (Emma de Caunes, "Ma mère"), but clearly intrigued, and, living across the hall from her landlady, Stéphane's mother (Miou-Miou, "Dry Cleaning"), she has plenty of opportunity to run into him. Sleep, though, proves Stéphane's nemesis, and he delivers a letter written under its influence requesting Zoé's phone number. Stéphane awakens and realizes his mistake in time to retrieve it - or does he?
"The Science of Sleep" spends equal time on romance and Stéphane's workplace, a calendar company whose kooky employees madly infuse Stéphane's dreams and strangle his daytime creativity. The film's best sequence features Stéphane's robotics animation of Stéphanie's beloved stuffed horse, a toy she bought largely due to its misshapen makeup. Evoking Python again, the life size dream version is their pantomime horse. And in Gondry's world, Stéphane has a station, a Pee Wee's Playhouse Stéphane TV, where he mixes up his dreams ('random thoughts, events of the day...') and checks on his reality - behind a plastic shower curtain. Spin art and egg cartons, cotton puffy clouds and one second time machines are all part of what dreams are made out of.
Bernal, who spends the film in a slightly too small purple suit and ear-flapped stocking hat, is an adorable man-boy here, needy but enthusiastic and always ready to play. Gainsbourg is more reticent, but allows herself to be swept away by Stéphane's excitement. Watch her eyes sparkle when they begin to brainstorm. Also good in support are Alain Chabat ("The Taste of Others") as Stéphane's enabling workmate and Aurélia Petit ("When the Cat's Away") and Sacha Bourdo ("On Guard!") as his more critical ones.
"The Science of Sleep" never achieves the emotional depth of "Eternal Sunshine," but it's a merry lark full of off the wall humor and offbeat imagery
Michel Gondry’s earlier film, “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind,” garnered critical praise as a masterpiece work. I watched it twice and I simply did not get the acclaim. So, I was not keenly up for “The Science of Sleep.”
I have to say that I enjoyed Gondry’s latest effort more than I expected. It is an imaginative film that mixes its dream fantasy well with the trials and tribulations of its main character, Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal), a shy graphic artist brought back to Paris by his mother with the promise of a job that would fulfill his creative abilities. He quickly learns that the boring, unfulfilling job was simply a sham to bring him home to mama.
The Science of Sleep” is a creative effort that is well crafted and visually amusing to watch. The best parts of it are Stephane’s dreams, handled in part as a TV variety show that bring in his life, hopes and aspirations – especially for next door neighbor, Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). This is not conventional, linear storytelling but the kitschy handling of the subject matter keeps the eye and the mind amused. It’s not a mainstream film by any stretch of the imagination and will probably find its niche with the college crowd. I give it a B-.
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