Saturday, February 17, 2007

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP/LA SCIENCE DES REVES - kooky, romantic, beautiful

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP is a visual and imaginative tour de force from writer-director Michel Gondry (THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND). Some say that unshackled from post-modern cult writer, Charlie Kauffman, Gondry has slipped into beautiful but self-indulgent and ultimately boring whimsy. I beg to differ. While I can see the intelligence and conceptual brilliance of a movie like ETERNAL SUNSHINE, Kauffman's films have always left me a little cold. The characters always seemed like pawns in a clever game and I found the movies emotionally sterile. (Perhaps this is the point?) By contrast, THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP is deeply personal and each character is well-loved and engaging, despite going on a surreal, sometimes creepy romantic thrill-ride.

Our hero is a young artist called Stéphane with a child-like fondness for inventing things and optical illusions. Lured back to Paris from Mexico by his French mother with the offer of a creative job, Stéphane finds himself stuck as a typesetter in a basement full of kooky colleagues. The most memorable of these is a middle-aged alleged love-monster called Guy who mercilessly takes the piss out of his co-workers and upstages the lead characters whenever he is on screen. Faced with such a numbing job, Stéphane retreats into his richly imagined dreamworld. Here he is the star of his own Blue Peter style childrens TV show; he can kick his boss out of the window; and he can have fantasies about his co-worked Martine. However, events really kick off when he meets his shy neighbour Stéphanie. At first, he fancies her friend, but soon, Stéphanie's obession with rescuing knitted dolls and making things wins Stéphane over. The question is: will Stéphanie allow herself to be drawn into this charming, romantic dream-world and find love.

It should now be clear that you cannot approach this film with a cynical mind-set. The whole point is to confront us with an infantile man and ask us what is wrong with his reversion into dreams. To that end, the production & costume design betrays an attention to detail not seen since THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS and the characters have a similar habit of saying exactly what they think, no matter how naif or down-right bizarre that seems to us.

If the movie walks a fine line between whimsy and ridiculousness, it stays on the right side thanks largely to a laugh out loud funny script and outstanding performances from all lead and supporting actors. Among the supporting cast, Alain Chabat (LE GOUT DES AUTRES) is outstanding as Guy. And as far as the leads go, while Charlotte Gainsbourg is absolutely fine as Stéphanie, the revelation is Gael García Bernal as Stéphane. I have always liked his work but it has all been off a piece - THE CRIMES OF PADRE AMARO to THE KING to BAD EDUCATION, he has played sexually confident, almost predatory men. By contrast, in THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP he plays a shy, child-like character completely convincingly and - more of a revelation - plays comedy really well, moving as easily between English, Spanish and French as his character moves between dreams and reality.

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP played Berlin 2006 and went on release in France, Germany, the US, Belgium, Russia, Denmark, Israel, Portugal, Mexico, Poland, the Netherlands, Greece, Hong Kong, Sweden, Turkey and Estonia in 2006. It opened in Finland and Italy in January 2007 and is currently on release in Spain and the UK. It opens in Japan on April 7th, in Australia on May 3rd and in Argentina on August 9th. THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP is also available on Region 1 DVD.

1 comment:

  1. this movie was awesome. just watched it a few days ago and can't stop thinking about it! i image searched science of sleep and found your page.