The Science Of Sleep

2006, Movie, R, 106 mins


Michel Gondry's follow-up to ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004) isn't as cohesive as that much-loved hipster head trip, but it's a wildly imaginative picture in its own right. After spending much of his young adulthood in Mexico with his dad, aspiring graphic artist Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) is lured back to his childhood home in Paris by his concerned mother, who claims to have found him a "creative" job at a local calendar company. But when Stephane arrives for his first day of work, he's horrified to learn that he's actually accepted a position as a typesetter, which requires very little creativity. To make matters worse, he's stuck in a windowless basement room with some of the most irritating coworkers this side of TV's The Office. As an escape from his dead-end job, he frequently disappears into his overactive imagination, where he can wander through magical forests and cities made of cardboard. Meanwhile, back in the real world, Stephane falls for his new next-door neighbor, Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), also an artist type. Unfortunately, she doesn't exactly feel the same way about him. And that's understandable, given that Stephane's behavior is unpredictable at best: One moment he's helping Stephanie build a model boat, the next he's sneaking into her apartment when she's out and stealing one of her dolls (though, to be fair, he only wanted to repair it). It doesn't seem to register with Stephane that he may be freaking out the girl he loves; in his mind, he and Stephanie are meant to be together. As she pulls further away from him, his fantasy life starts crossing over into reality to the point where he (and the audience) has trouble telling the difference. Working for the first time from his own screenplay, Gondry lacks the narrative discipline to back up his wild flights of fancy, something at which his former collaborator Charlie Kaufman excels. But few other contemporary filmmakers possess Gondry's visual playfulness and love of whimsy, and the film's fantasy sequences are so lovingly crafted that it's no wonder Stephane would rather spend all his time in his private universe. Fans of Gondry's music-video work will recognize some of the film's flourishes, including camera tricks he employed in his groundbreaking videos for Bjork back in the 1990s. As Stephane, Bernal continues to demonstrate an impressive range; the character requires the normally laid-back actor to be a wild ball of energy, and he's more than up to the challenge. His performance is hilarious, heartfelt and more than a little creepy, which could also be said about the movie itself. leave a comment --Ethan Alter

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