THE QUICK HIT: In The Science of Sleep, artist Stephane Miroux slips effortlessly between the waking world and the world of dreams. And because this movie is brought to you by the man behind The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the visuals that represent those dreams are vivid and whimsical—pure magic wonder.
THE BIG PICTURE: In this film we see Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) fly through a liquid sky and host a frenetic TV show where he serves as both host and house band. The catch is, these things happen in his dreams, although to Stephane they are every bit as real as his alert life. A shy handsome boy in a funny Peruvian knit cap, he has moved back into his mother’s apartment building in Paris after the death of his father in Mexico. His old bedroom is full of crafts projects and Rube Goldberg inventions that perform tasks such as turning off the lights. And the dreams Stephane has (and we are shown) are charming low-tech affairs made of the same materials in his crafts supply box—with a particular affinity for cardboard tubes.
We suspect Stephane is not terribly mature when his mother has secured him a dull job at a calendar company he assumed would be a creative position—after all he has twelve illustrations in which “each month has its own most disastrous event etched in the collective memory.” When he meets the new neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) via a staircase piano-moving disaster, we realize Stephane is not just childlike but socially awkward.
“You have big hands,” Stephanie says.
“That means I have a big penis,” Stephane answers.
Although initially attracted to her friend, it is through dreams that Stephane falls in love with Stephanie, and through reveries and his strange inventions that he attempts to woo her, with mixed results. These dreams, including the recurring Stephane TV show, cross over into real life with increasing frequency, sometimes bordering on delusion. We as viewers become unsure of what is dream and what is reality as well—does Stephane’s company actually produce his Disastrology calendar and throw him a party? Adding to the confusion is Stephane’s poor command of French, his reliance on English, and the cast’s tendency to attempt Spanish, Spanglish, or Sprench with him. Plus there is the matter of Stephane/Stephanie.
Thanks to Gondry’s vision, we can appreciate the beauty and simplicity of Stephane’s dreams while simultaneously worrying about the fate of our curious protagonist. This is a film best viewed more than once, and for all the right reasons.
TECHNICAL MUMBO-JUMBO: A paltry six-million-dollar budget, maybe half of it spent on Gael Garcia Bernal and the rest on the animated cardboard-tube art, shows that a beautiful film can be made with very little.
DIRECTOR: Michel Gondry
CAST: Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Miou-Miou, Alain Chabat
Review by Sha Harrison