The Science of Sleep
15 • 105 mins • OUT NOW!
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou, Emma De Caunes
Amid the acclaim for memory loss masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one key figure often found himself overlooked. While screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, already established for his meta-tragicomedies Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, basked in the glory, the film’s director, Michel Gondry, was all but ignored.
Happily there’s no danger of that in his equally dazzling follow-up The Science of Sleep. Written and directed by Gondry, it’s all his own synapse-scrambling work. There may even be a gentle rebuke to those who diminished the former music video prodigy’s role on Eternal Sunshine; when we first meet lead character Stéphane (Gael García Bernal), a character who Gondry admits is something of an alter-ego, he’s hosting a one-man show, “Stéphane TV” in which he is the director, the cameraman and the presenter. The only drawback to the multi-talented Stéphane’s broadcast is that it’s playing exclusively inside his own head. Stéphane’s a wide-eyed misfit, a DJ of dreams who regularly splices and mixes his sleeping and waking lives. Recently returned from Mexico after his father’s death, he moves in to his Parisian mother’s flat and takes up a dead-end job designing calendars. Bored, socially awkward and lonely, it’s little wonder that Stéphane prefers his flights of fancy.
Then he falls for, quite literally, the girl-next-door, his gamine neighbour Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Though he initially pretends her vivacious best friend Zoé (Emma De Caunes) has caught his eye, Stéphanie is the girl of his dreams and he soon inserts her into his head-spinning cycle of reveries and reality.
If our maladroit hero struggles to juggle the two worlds, Gondry himself performs a daring and deft balancing act. Usually dream sequences on film bear little resemblance to most people’s oneiric states. Dreams are random and disjointed. All anathema to traditional storytelling.
Yet Science of Sleep is one of the few films – like Richard Linklater’s Waking Life or David Lynch’s wilder output – that uses dream illogic to structure its entire world. This is helped no end by Gondry’s trademark “hand-made”, hugely tactile filmmaking. His visual effects are often achieved in-camera, giving them an endearing physical charm. Forget pixels and hard drives; Gondry’s like a genius kid with Attention Defecit Disorder let loose in a primary school art department, manically fashioning bedsheet mountain pistes and stop-motion toy ponies out of cotton, cardboard and clay.
Occasionally the film’s more whimsical ideas can be exasperating and childish rather than childlike. Indeed all this breathless invention would be merely exhausting if it wasn’t grounded in a touching, bittersweet romance.
Pocket-sized heartthrob Bernal’s performance is immensely appealing and Gainsbourg’s Stéphanie is quite lovely, a fellow dreamer with one rueful eye on the disillusioning world at large.
The Science of Sleep reveals a true pioneering artist of the unconscious at work. You were expecting a straight drama from one of the most fertile and visual filmmakers working today? Dream on.