Art or Science?
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat
Length: 105 minutes
You won't see any melting clocks or ripple effects in Michel Gondry's new dream-themed flick, The Science of Sleep.
Many filmmakers attempt to realise the dream experience. While these representations have become somewhat cliche and formulaic, The Science of Sleep strikes a chord with its lo-fi format, paying homage to papier-mache and early MTV.
The film follows Stephane (played by the dynamic Gael Garcia Bernal), and his awkward re-initiation with Paris, after spending most of his life in Mexico. The overly-imaginative and eccentric qualities of Stephane are immediately evident, as we're launched straight into the inner workings of his mind, signified by cardboard box settings that take us back to kindergarten 'craft time'.
Not long after starting a banal job in a soul-less office, our protagonist encounters his introverted neighbour, Stephanie (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg). As he stumbles through social interactions, limited by his clumsy French, reality is interwoven seamlessly with dream sequences, providing us an intimate insight into this character's raw unconscious.
The film maintains a sophisticated treatment, despite the cardboard. Gondry establishes the ethereal quality of dreams with distorted pace and sound, as well as meshing video with animation. The overall effect is humorous, and kept me pleasantly riveted.
The friendship between Stephane and Stephanie develops, due to their respective idiosyncrasies, in an off-kilter way. Upon discovery of their shared love of craft, the cautious Stephanie is drawn out of her shell, and their kindred imaginations fuel a romance. Garcia Bernal delivers a magnetic performance as the somewhat socially inept individual, whose kookiness subsequently poses problems in the relationship.
While sitting comfortably within the realms of "wacky", The Science of Sleep is not a headache to follow. The various offbeat characters are endearing in their quirkiness, and in their inability to represent 'adults'. It's their refreshingly childlike outlooks on life that make them a pleasing match, and the film is a celebration of the unusual.
There is no doubt that The Science of Sleep distinguishes itself stylistically and thematically, even from its contemporary films in the arthouse genre. Bearing the watermark of a Michel Gondry piece throughout, this movie is surreal, kooky, and fun. Although it incorporates a taste of foreign languages, don't be put off if you find the prospect of reading subtitles grueling - the majority of dialogue is delivered in English. Ambitious in its zany visual style, the film manages to maintain cohesion, while delivering a colourful narrative. The Science of Sleep is a film that is sure to reappear in your dreams, whether you're a lover of the arthouse genre, or just up for a twist on the conventional rom-com.