Wednesday 19 September 2007

The Science Of Sleep (2006)

Wednesday 19 September 2007
Writer & Director: Michel Gondry

Cast: Gael García Bernal (Stéphane Miroux), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Stéphanie), Alain Chabat (Guy), Miou-Miou (Christine Miroux), Pierre Vaneck (Monsieur Pouchet), Emma de Caunes (Zoé), Aurélia Petit (Serge), Stéphane Metzger (Sylvain), Alain de Moyencourt (Gérard), Inigo Lezzi (Monsieur Persinnet) & Yvette Petit (Ivana)

A man who's obsessed with dreams and imagination, falls in love with a neighbour he believes can see his inner world...

Michel Gondry takes audiences on a mad trip into his subconscious, filled with fun imagery and amusing diversions... all in desperate need of interesting characters and a storyline worth following...

The Science Of Sleep (or La Science des rêves) is what happens when arch-visualist Gondry goes on an ego trip; writing the script for what is, essentially, a hollow excuse to throw imagery at the screen. A romantic plot tries desperately to make an impact and give meaning to the visual doodling, but there's no magic in the characters.

Gael García Bernal (Y tu mamá también) stars as Stéphane, a Mexican who's just moved to France to work for a novelty calendar company, armed with his own concept "disasterology" (a painted disaster for every month of the year.) His eccentric work colleagues aren't impressed, but he's hired to perform some menial tasks, under the guidance of Guy (Alain Chabat).

Later, following the delivery of a piano, Stéphane meets two women who neighbour his apartment: Zoé (Emma de Caunes, daughter of the Eurotrash presenter!) and Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whom he takes an immediate shine to.

Stéphane himself is a "dreamer" in a very real sense; an enthusiastic young man who regularly has vivid dreams of being in a one-man variety show -- performing to himself in a television studio made of cardboard, which also acts as a "holding area" before he can enter deep sleep through a bluescreen doorway. Once in the land of nod, he's free to swim above stop-motion cityscapes, ride a patchwork horse, or find his hands have ballooned to gigantic proportions!

Stéphanie is a similarly imaginative and creative personality, but a misunderstanding over a letter convinces Stéphane that she has the ability to share his dreamworld -- because their minds are linked and working in tandem. He's soon trying desperately to woo her, by creating a "one-second time machine" and animate a model boat she built.

Unfortunately, despite Gael García Bernal's best efforts to make Stéphane a likeable, quirky presence, he just becomes annoying. In fact, given his flights of fancy, I'm surprised nobody considers calling for the men in white coats! Bernal is a bundle of energy and a consumate performer, but Gondry's film is more concerned with puppeteering him through "dream sketches", than anchoring him with a strong story in humdrum reality. The trippy dreams themselves start off as beguiling, but just become tedious.

Charlotte Gainsbourg (21 Grams) gives a well-meaning, but blank performance as Stéphanie, lacking a believable spark with Bernal. She looks suitably perterbed by Stéphane's crazy antics, but you never believe these two have any romantic connection. Stéphane's just obsessed and misguided, while Stéphanie teases him along. They're just two immature, harmless weirdos having fun together to pass the time.

The Science Of Sleep seems to be a movie that Gondry wrote for himself because he was itching to cook-up some visuals. As a noted director of many wonderful music videos, Gondry is very talented in this area -- but 106 minutes is a long time, and Gondry's talents don't extend to writing particularly involving plots or deep characterisation.

Anyone expecting another Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind will be disappointed, as writer Charlie Kaufman's brand of humanity-in-crazy-circumstances, is entirely absent. Left to his own devices, Gondry gorges his appetite for eccentric goings-on, but forgets the spine of a good, solid story.

You know you're in trouble when the only thing keeping interest is how characters flit from their native French, to second-language English (with the odd Mexican phrase thrown in because of Bernal's nationality!) Just listening to them talk is far more engaging than the visuals sometimes.

Overall, The Science Of Sleep is a cacophany of style over substance; visual eye-candy that outstays its welcome. The plot is soon swimming in circles and Gondry's tricks begin to repeat as much as his "one-second time machine". For a movie about the power, beauty and wonder of dreams and imagination... I'm sad to report Gondry only elicited one emotion from me: irritation.

Warner Independent Pictures
Budget: $6 million
106 minutes