DVD Review: The Science of Sleep
Michel Gondry, who mastered surreal psychology in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind returns with this tenderly constructed portrait of an over-sensitive dreamer. Mexican Stéphane (Gael García Bernal) has moved to France, tempted by his Gallic mother's offer of a supposedly creative job at a calendar company. Staying in his childhood bedroom, he falls in love with his adorable neighbour Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsborough) – but not before casting a pall over their relationship with a mistake he makes due to his tendency to confuse imagination and reality.
The first thing that struck me about The Science of Sleep was its immediacy. Hand-held cameras and natural sound make reality seem just like reality – while steadicams, cardboard buildings and stop-motion animation denote the world of Stéphane's dreams. There's a glorious hand-made feel to these latter sequences, as if each car, cloud and building was created by Stéphane himself from loo rolls, cellophane and glue. If nothing else, it's nice to see some real craftsmanship in a contemporary movie, in the place of the often soulless barage of CGI.
As in Eternal Sunshine, Gondry shows a keen, almost painful ability to convey the ups and downs of love, from moments of energetic creative connection, to depressive, drunken jealousy. As an added dimension, flowing from that comes a perfect depiction of dream logic – barely coherent declarations of love, peculiar causes and effects, arguments based on semantics rather than actualities. At the collision of these two planes is Stéphane, able to imagine his hopes and fears with equal vividness, self-centred, self-defeating and moody – a lot like a certain blogging space cat you may know.
The Science of Sleep had me alternating between being on the verge of tears during Stéphane's painful waking moments of heartbreak, and laughing at the sheer brilliance of his imagination. In places these dream sequences betray Gondry's background as a music video director – but so what? If destroying the world with an enormous plasticine volcano isn't sufficient cause for a rock anthem, I don't think anything is.
Given that the back of the DVD case promises a film about 'imagination vs logic' it's refreshing to see the film take an entirely positive approach to science – musing pseudo-scientifically on black holes and brain chemistry. You have to understand how things work, be able to appreciate the peculiar and surprising before you can create; have to understand a little chaos theory and electronics to make a tiny robot horse – though whether Stéphane actually does make a tiny robot horse is debatable. Stéphane's inability to distinguish reality from dreams overflows into the film itself, especially where he sucks Stéphanie into his flights of fancy – making cotton wool clouds float in the air with a resonant note played on the piano.
With its combination of everyday ambience and out-of-this-world imagination, The Science of Sleep is perhaps the film for the hopeless dreamers among us. While it may not efface Eternal Sunshine in the eyes of many, I found it to be one of the most touching films I can name.