Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Science of Sleep

The Science of Sleep
Written and directed by Michel Gondry
Warner Independent

Also: La Science des Reves. This is Gondry's second movie of the year, after Dave Chappelle's Block Party. He becomes the 2nd member of the 2006 2-movie club joining Justin Lin.

Michel Gondry is lumped in with the "love triangle" of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze of filmmakers who deal with the absurd or surreal, usually a comedy. Kaufman and Jonze came out with Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, and then Kaufman scripted two of Gondry's films in Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This time, no Kaufman involved, just Gondry. The result is that Gondry is no Kaufman when it comes to writing, but you may still have a really good time.

Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a young man who lives in the dreamworld and the real world at the same time it seems. He has been asked by his mother to come to Paris to occupy her apartment while she's gone, promising that she has a job lined up for him that will allow him to use his creativity. His job turns out to be a place that makes dirty calendars, with no real input allowed. His coworkers are all strange in their own ways, headed by the horny Guy (Alain Chabat). At his apartment, he accidentally interferes with movers toting a piano up some stairs, leading to some damage--the piano is owned by his cute neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). His screwed-up imagination, dreams, and lack of focus to reality leads to some confusion as to whether he wants Stephanie or her friend Zoe (Emma de Caunes), but it is indeed Stephanie he wants--but can he "grow up" and figure out how to express himself?

And thus, this is Gondry's MO--love is strange and surreal. It's a different way of approaching the love story, which has been done to death in romantic comedies with that formula of boy meets girl, boy and girl hate each other, some sort of event brings them together, romance ensues, a revelation or misunderstanding leads to a breakup, then reconciliation.

The Science of Sleep is often funny, with a great leading performance from Bernal, whose line readings are genius. Also funny as is his co-worker confidant is Chabat. The movie's soul is inhabited by Gainsbourg, who has the very tough task of being whatever Stephane's imagination thinks she is, but strong enough to reveal the truth through all of that. And those scenes in which we are clearly in the dreamworld have an eighties "Sledgehammer" feel; that classic video from Peter Gabriel is always fun to watch, and so is this.

But despite all of that, you might indeed find something missing in all of this. What happens with movies that offer the perspective of dreams and reality mixed is that I can never pinpoint exactly what I'm feeling about it; there's a definite loss of connection with the story and characters. In both the great "otherworld" movies Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine, there was a definite barrier between real and fiction--in Malkovich it was any time someone went into the portal, in Sunshine it was any time Jim Carrey was remembering moments he shared with Kate Winslet. The lines have been blurred so much here, it's remarkable that there's the hint of a connection at all by film's end. This is why The Science of Sleep eventually fails to be either of those movies; but it's creativity is welcome in a year almost completely devoid of it.


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