October 26, 2006

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The Science of Sleep (R)
Michel Gondry and Gael Garcia Bernal team up to play art school bullies poking me in the ribs with reels of The Science of Sleep, a bunch of ephemeral nonsense that mistakes felt trees for some deep statement about consciousness and love.

I make a serious effort not to read reviews or even too many news stories about a movie before it comes out. I want to see the movie relatively unencumbered by other people’s opinions. Bits of praise for The Science of Sleep, however, filtered through my media blackout and I must admit that between the positive things I’d accidentally heard and the fact that Michel Gondry directed two films I deeply enjoyed (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Dave Chappelle’s Block Party) I went into this movie fairly optimistic.

What a mistake.

Stephané (Bernal) is an artistic sort, if making a calendar depicting 12 air disasters is your kind of art. Actually, art-wise, the air disasters calendar stands as a masterpiece compared to the felt-and-glue contraptions that he makes in and out of his dreams (the kind of “inventions” you might have made in the first grade). He has recently moved to Paris and taken a job doing typesetting. It bores him as, at first, does his next door neighbor named Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), even though both job and girl feature into his increasingly strange dreams (dreams where the characters want to keep him from waking up so they won’t cease to exist).

Stephané slowly develops romantic feelings for Stephanie, sort of, though, as with most of Stephané’s emotions, his sudden fondness for Stephanie is expressed in a very elementary school manner — pouting when she disappoints him and stalking her in some strange ways. Eventually, the Stephanie of his dreams becomes more real than the Stephanie next door, leading his behavior toward the real Stephanie to seem even more bizarre.

The Science of Sleep is dizzying and whimsical and captures the emotions of life as opposed to its reality in the same way that an impressionistic painting captures mood as opposed to photographic accuracy. It blends dream and reality to give us a movie that really takes place in the strange landscape of one man’s inner life with only occasional peeks at the outside world.

You know, if you like that sort of thing.

Were this movie a person, it would be a performance artist. An annoying one. One who capers in front of you and, ren-faire-style, pesters you to join in whatever slice of illusion he is trying to create. You can give these people money, you can decline to make eye contact but you can not shake them until you run away. Bernal might be big-eyed and sweet-faced but his man-boy act overtakes his talent here. It’s grating to sit through and, where at least a real live mime or a mutton-wielding bar wench would be within smacking distance, only the end of the movie can make the tomfoolery of The Science of Sleep cease. C-

Rated R for language, some sexual content and nudity (though not enough to make it interesting).Directed and written by Michel Gondry, The Science of Sleep is distributed by Warner Independent in limited release and is an hour and 45 minutes long. The movie is in French and English with English subtitles.

— Amy Diaz