The Science of Sleep (La Science des Reves) (4 stars)

(15) 105min

French auteur Michel Gondry asserts himself as the natural heir to Jean Cocteau in this his third feature proper. Welcome to the mind-bending world of Stéphane Miroux (Gael García Bernal), a shy Mexican who exists in a perpetual confusion between realities. After his initial attraction to boho neighbours, Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Christine (Miou-Miou), develops into a creative but unrequited passion, Stéphane and Stéphanie begin to share a dream world where they express their offbeat sensibilities through fuzzy felt horses, cellophane rivers and cotton wool clouds. But banality and lack of self-belief may just prove to be these two dreamers’ undoing.

Certain sequences in Gondry’s multi-layered 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had already set a template of sorts for Stéphane’s bizarre fantasies, where cardboard cars trundle through sagged skylines, which shimmer and waver like reefs of undersea coral. But Gondry constantly twists his quirky production design to provide an increasingly dark reflection of his anti-hero’s tortured mental state; the writer/director presents Stéphane’s thought processes as the workings of a television studio, where he presents a nightly cookery programme in which the ingredients of a humdrum life are cooked into feverish fantasy.

Like its Quixotic hero who fancies himself able to fly like Superman, but lacks the confidence to meet his girlfriend for an afternoon coffee, Gondry’s film is likely to divide audiences, but The Science of Sleep offers an intensity, which carries a rare spark of inspiration and sincerity. In a role originally intended for Rhys Ifans, who provided Gondry with the film’s title, Bernal drops his usual cocksure arrogance in favour of a dweebish awkwardness, mangling several languages at once in his discussions of ‘Dis-astrology’ and ‘schitzometric’ behaviour.

Returning to the Paris streets where he spent his formative years, Gondry’s highly personal account of a hapless adolescent struggling to connect with the world may be overtly cute at times, but it’s hard to miss the point; that a passionately lived life is a piece of art in itself, whether the outside world gives a damn or not.

Selected release from Fri 16 Feb.

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The Science of Sleep

  • 4 stars
  • 2006
  • France
  • 1h 45min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Michel Gondry
  • Written by: Michel Gondry
  • Cast: Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Miou-Miou, Alain Chabat

Welcome to the mind-bending world of Stephane Miroux (Bernal) who exists in a perpetual confusion between realities. Its quirkiness is likely to divide audiences, but it carries an intense and rare spark of inspiration and sincerity.

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