The Science of Sleep (15)

Written and Directed by Michel Gondry
Screening at FACT from 16th February - 8th March 2007

Reviewed by Adam Ford

In many ways, The Science of Sleep is a lot like Gondry's other major film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's amazing to look at, it feels like a bit of a trip, and it's close to being a great film. But it isn't one. And that's annoying.

After his Mexican dad dies, shy and sensitive Stéphane (Gael García Bernal) is persuaded by his mum to work on an 'artistic' job in Paris. Unfortunately for him, it turns out his role is to glue pieces of paper together for a calendar company, so his creative juices are pent up during the day, and only released in dreamtime. Most of his dreams about his next door neighbour Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who he falls for in a big way when her piano lands on his hand (as you would). But soon enough he gets caught up in his obsession, and the line between fantasy and reality doesn't so much blur as disappear completely.

This is a very enjoyable film in a way, because the leading duo are great together, and the dream sequences are rendered beautifully, using many of the skills Gondry sharpened making music videos for the Foo Fighters, Chemical Brothers and White Stripes. But I can see that people who aren't into that kind of thing are going to hate this film, because there isn't really much there if you scratch beneath the surface.

Just like in Eternal Sunshine, the whole film is (deliberately or not) based on Descartes' famous truism 'I think therefore I am'. The only thing I can be 100% sure of is that I exist. I might be dreaming about writing this review (what a sad case I'd be), I might be a brainwashed battery being drained by a giant machine like in The Matrix, or the universe might have been created last Thursday by Queen Maeve the Housecat, and all my twenty-five years of 'memories' came pre-installed. Those are interesting ideas, definitely, but it isn't worth more than maybe an hour's thought, never mind two films.

Why is Gondry scared of confronting the reality that surrounds him? If he manages to do that, his third movie may be a modern masterpiece. If not, all the animated effects in the world won't make it watchable.

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