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SCIENCE OF SLEEP, THE (Science des rêves, La) (director/writer: Michel Gondry; cinematographer: Jean-Louis Bompoint; editor: Juliette Welfling; music: Jean-Michel Bernard; cast: Gael García Bernal (Stephane), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Stephanie), Alain Chabat (Guy), Miou-Miou (Christine Miroux), Emma de Caunes (Zoe), Aurélia Petit (Martine), Sacha Bourdo (Serge), Pierre Vaneck (Mr. Pouchet), Decourt Moyen (Gérard); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Georges Bermann; Warner Independent Pictures; 2006-France-in English, French and Spanish, with English subtitles)
“…. wacky and tacky fantasy film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The French filmmaker and former director of musical videos, Michel Gondry (“Human Nature”), comes up with a similar themed wacky and tacky fantasy film followup to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” but for being a low budget work, without star power and without the esoteric writing services of Charles Kaufman, as Gondry goes solo for the first time as a screenwriter. Though inventive in a juvenile way (it seems to be an oddity flick about weird costumes, set piece collages, and bizarre animations as much as it’s a slice of life screwball comedy/romance story that lauds the imaginary world), its overwhelming cutesy whimsical take on things served in the end to turn me off to whatever charms it might have conveyed by being so different and imaginative and a rallying point against a rational-only world. It just seemed for the most part too irksome, muddled and perhaps, worst of all, pretentiously arty. While Eternal Sunshine won me over with its head trip angst and its screwball comedy romance between characters I could dig, that’s not the case here–I found the male lead Gael García Bernal to be obnoxious, obsessive and a tiresome bore and his love interest, a definite kindred spirit, Charlotte Gainsbourg (the daughter of British actress Jane Birkin), to be sweet but equally obsessive, dull, and afraid of living in the real world.

Stephane (Gael García Bernal), after his father’s death from cancer, is induced by his landlord mother (Miou-Miou), who is living in the French suburbs with a half-baked stage magician (Decourt Moyen), to leave Mexico after an extended stay there with his divorced dad and take a job she landed for him as a graphic artist at a Paris print shop. The boss (Pierre Vaneck) does not care for Stephane’s idea for a calendar to have each month identified with an historical disaster that actually happened on that month, preferring to keep his clients happy with the usual nude girls pictured for each month. The work-place bores Stephane, where his creativity is put on hold, but there’s mischief to be had with staffers such as the obnoxious troublemaker Guy (Alain Chabat) and the wormy inseparable duo of Serge (Sacha Bourdo) and Martine (Aurélia Petit) whom Guy takes delight in bullying.

The rest of the childlike Stephane’s time is filled with escape from the world through dreams, such as the one where he hosts a crazed TV show and allows things to be determined by random thoughts. He also expounds on his theory of “Parallel Synchronized Randomness,” that states if two people have the same thought patterns they can find each other. A dose of reality interrupts him from his enjoyable dream world when the new next-door neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is helped by him as she moves in and even though he’s not attracted to her as much as he’s attracted to her friend Zoe (Emma de Caunes), he still can’t resist her when he sees she’s just as flaky as he is, is also an artistic type stuck in a menial job and is on his wavelength. Even though he doesn’t think of this as a romance, he can’t stop being obsessive about trying to be with her.

Our hero proves to be unstable, immature, in need of therapy, testy, a bit of an ass, self-absorbed and possessed with many other less than desirable qualities, but he is creative and is an innocent in a cold world. There’s not much of an intellectual treatment to these characters given by Gondry or does the narrative even attempt to address sociopolitical concerns, but instead plays as an ode to those maladjusted dreamers no matter how perverse or wasteful their lives might seem. But, Gondry seems to leave it on a sad note, warning that these helpless characters better have someone looking out for them or else they will have little chance of surviving in the real world.

It has some nice Surreal touches, but lacks any edge or depth and never allowed me to connect with the would-be lovers except as cartoonish Chaplinesque characters. I have no doubt that if you could relate to them better than I could, you would like the film much better than I did. Unfortunately, all those infantile antics kept my attention wandering.

REVIEWED ON 10/15/2006 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”