The Science of Sleep
15 · 106 minutes · 28 Jul
Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsborough, Emma De Caunes, Miou-Miou, Alain Chabat
With a knack for visual tricks, optical illusions and concepts that make you think “how the hell did he come up with that?!”, French director Michel Gondry is one of the most astounding and talented filmmakers to emerge from the world of music videos.
He’s also the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of the most brain-bending SF films in years. His latest film sees him shifting into writer-director mode, mixing his love of old-school stop-motion animation with knockabout comedy and generally blurring the barriers between dreams and reality.
It’s the story of Stephane (The Motorcycle Diaries star Bernal), a geeky and over-imaginative artist who finds himself trapped in a mind-numblingly tedious job at a Parisian calendar company. His dream world is soon going into overdrive to combat his boredom, but when an attempt to ask a girl on a date ends up with him accidentally striking up a relationship with his otherworldly neighbour (Gainsborough), his fantasy life starts to invade the real world in some stunningly realised sequences.
Using a selection of beautifully crude techniques, from back-projection to over-sized models, there’s a real sense of childish simplicity and wonder to the film, hovering on the edge between outright fantasy and magical realism. Much of the action takes place in a cardboard TV studio inside Stephane’s head, which acts as a gateway between the two worlds, and the stream-of-consciousness storytelling has the same loopy edge as Monty Python at its very strangest.
In theory, all this brain-frazzling weirdness and multi-lingual comedy (veering from English to French to Spanish and back again) should add up to an amazing experience, but ultimately there’s an edge of infantile humour and self-indulgence to the film that even Gondry’s inventiveness can’t disguise. He’s comfortable with the off-kilter strangeness, but can’t bring the same level of emotion to the central romance that he managed with Eternal Sunshine, stumbling badly in the final twenty minutes and failing to make us truly care about the characters. It’s still a unique and gorgeously perplexing experience, but anyone other than serious Gondry fans may find themselves scratching their heads by the time the credits roll.