Friday, September 22, 2006

The Science of Sleep - Movie Review

The Science of Sleep 2006

Oh, the magic that two fine actors can wield when parlaying roles in a slightly less than grand film. Case in point, the wonderful star turns by Gael García Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg in the dizzingly distraught and bizarrely entertaining latest by Michel Gondry – “The Science of Sleep”. Gondry made an international name for himself with his wonderfully baroque romantic comedy “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. He has returned with what can be described as a personal testament to the romantic ridiculousness of dreams.

We meet a young man named Stéphane who to label a dreamer would be far too painful an understatement. Here is a character whose waking life is eternally spotted with rococo fantasies. He returns to Paris to accept a job offer his mother has helped to secure. It is an outwardly miserable experience setting type for an unimaginative calendar in an oppressive office. When Stéphane attempts to speak with the head of the small company about his idea for a calendar . . . well, let’s just leave that for the viewer to discover for themselves. For it is a priceless moment.

And you, dear viewer should venture forth and see “The Science of Sleep”. For while we had many questions and concerns about the finished product, the charisma and excitement that two strong actors can generate together more than compensate for the films lack of clarity. Now, let’s be clear ourselves. We do not question the heavy use of dream imagery, or the intentionally deceptive moments where we are taken down one road only to have the cobblestones plucked gingerly away one by one.

Our issue is one with the film’s overall tone. We thought Gondry nailed it perfectly with “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. A terrific balancing act between comedy, drama, romance and the illusion that somehow all three might be exclusive. Here, the dreams of Stéphane threaten at times to turn into nightmarish visions of this charming young man that we fear might be his undoing.

For when he moves into his old flat, he meets a new neighbor across the hall – two new neighbors. Two charming young girls by the names of Zoé and Stéphanie. While Zoé may be the more brazen of the two, it is Stéphanie that Stéphane falls madly in love with. And all because he realizes that she too has moments of dreamlike clarity wherein they can meet and play.

And with such a young and gorgeous young actress as Charlotte Gainsbourg in the role of Stéphanie, it would seem foolish not to fall in love with her. Unless of course the male lead where played by the even more attractive Gael García Bernal. If their physical beauty and effortless charm where all they had going for them, well then they might as well be in a softcore Playboy Channel teleflick.

The triumph of this film is the tender and complex relationship that slowly begins to build between the dreamer and the romantic. Which are two very separate ideals. A relationship that gets off to so many hilarious aborted beginnings, that we beg of you to go and witness them for yourselves. It is a wonderful sense of comedy that grows intuitively from the characters and their situations and is not thrust upon them for sight gags and slapstick.

Unfortunately, the slapstick is left to the supporting cast. It isn’t that they are without talent; it is just that Gondry seems to be using them as tools instead of characters. While we can laugh and be charmed at the inane mistakes Stéphane keeps making in the name of romance, the knockabout farce of his workplace begins to grate on the nerves after one scene.

Perhaps it has more to do with the lovely scenes set within Stéphane’s dream landscape, since their pull is so strong. The whirling bits of animation which take their inspiration from mundane everyday objects are inspiring. As inspiring as the central casting. But if the dream imagery and blooming romance between Gael and Charlotte works beautifully, it is the realist side of Michel Gondry that provides one of the most striking scenes.

While we enjoyed the ride, we could hardly have anticipated the ending of this film. We will not spoil it for you, for we believe it is well worth seeing for yourselves. And we suppose that any fan of Gondry’s would not be surprised by his caustic wit and obtuse sense of a romantic ideal. Suffice to say, the film ends on a bittersweet note that managed for us at least to be faithful to his dreams and blisteringly “real” enough to make the audience yearn for a happy ending.

Whether or not you receive a true happy ending for this starry eyed duo remains securely in the eye of the beholder. So go forth, gentle readers and partake of the stuff that dreams are made of. We’re glad we did. Bless you all!

Written & Directed by Michel Gondry

Gael García Bernal as Stéphane
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Stéphanie
Alain Chabat as Guy
Miou-Miou as Christine Miroux
Emma de Caunes as Zoé
Aurélia Petit as Martine
Sacha Bourdo as Serge
Pierre Vaneck as M. Pouchet

Cinematography by Jean-Louis Bompoint
Film Editing by Juliette Welfling
Original Music by Jean-Michel Bernard
Production Design by Ann Chakraverty, Pierre Pell & Stéphane Rosenbaum
Costume Design by Florence Fontaine


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