Sunday, December 26, 2010

In Dreams Emotions Are Overwhelming: The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, 2006)

In dreams emotions are overwhelming.

Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep is charming and surreal, and features the most innate awkwardness of first love you are likely to witness. Following the success of 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gondry has proven with his first solo writing project that he is one of the most dynamic and innovative young directors in the world. In this film, Gondry endows upon Stephane the personal obsession he had at a young age with art and invention. Gondry, shortly after joining the band Oui Oui as a drummer, realized his passion was for directing short films and experimenting with live and stop-motion animation. He became one of the most innovative directors of video clips and worked with Bjork and The White Stripes to name just two prominent artists. In many ways, The Science of Sleep is a self-reflexive experiment of Gondry's personal creative buzz, and a truly bizarre collaboration of all his artistic obsessions with alternate versions of reality, and the purest example of his now distinctive cinema style.

Stephane Miroux (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a shy and withdrawn young man, whose vivid imagination and dreams are often inverted with his own reality, impairing his ability to react to individuals and the world around him. He returns to his childhood home in France, an apartment in a building owned by his mother, with promises of a creative job with a calendar printing company. Convinced that his creative skills would be required, he had prepared a series of drawings of worldwide disasters to be used in a collaboration for a calendar, called 'Disasterology'. But he soon finds that the job solely requires mundane typesetting work, and his passion for art and talent as an artist is unappreciated. One day, as he leaves his apartment for work, he tries to assist his new neighbor to move her piano inside, and injures his hand. He meets Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her friend Zoe. Stephane reveals that he is an inventor, and shows the girls some of his creations. He builds a friendship with Stephanie, who shares his passion for creativity, and they discuss ideas for a short animated film. Stephane also suspects that she might care for him. He, personally has an attraction to Zoe and debates whether to ask Stephanie for her number.

In one of the films' best sequences, Stephane, while having a bath, falls asleep and dreams that he writes a letter to Stephanie revealing his regret at having lied up until that point about being her neighbor and unremittingly asks for Zoe's number. It is written in French with such poor grammar that it is almost unreadable to Stephanie, who wakes up to see him deliver the letter. He walks into the hall wet and naked, and pushes the letter under her door. He wakes up in the bath moments later and sighs with relief that it was all just a dream...that is until he finds his notepad next to the bath and wet footprints leading out into the hall. Despite the revelations and Stephane's ignorance of Stephanie's knowledge of the letter, their friendship blossoms into a romance. Stephane becomes influenced and ultimately frustrated by the advice from his arrogant, sex-obsessed work colleague, Guy (Alain Chabat), and the bizarre circumstances that result from the intermixing of his vivid dreams and his reality. Stephane has always sought the answer to his emotions within his dream world, as he evaluates the bizarre complexities of human interaction and the peculiarities of the brain, but becomes increasingly frustrated when he fails to find any satisfying solutions to his dilemmas. Stephane believed that people empathized with what he did because it always came from the heart, and he decides to risk everything to win the heart of Stephanie. 

Elegant, creative and quirky, The Science of Sleep is an adult fantasy exploring the complexities of the human emotion; how we pursue and perceive love and companionship, both in our imagination and in reality. It tackles the idea, and quite well i think, that we are forever defined solely by who we are. There are also possibilities and unexplained phenomena in relation to the interrelation between the randomness of our daily experiences and the power of dreams when they are subject to interpretation. Interestingly, it also examines how our daily experience impacts on our dreams. In a sequence where Stephane and Stephanie have a confrontation following a party where the former drinks heavily and becomes upset when Stephanie dances flirtatiously with another man, Stephane assumes that the two are connected through 'Parallel Synchronized Randomness', a phenomenon he has examined in his dreams. When a continued relationship seems unlikely, Stephanie offers Zoe's number to Stephane, tearfully claiming that this was all he had wanted from her. Stephane still does not know that she had read the letter he pushed under her door, and assumes that the pair are connected by a cycle via their brains.

It's all meticulously crafted by Gondry, who appears to have a lot of fun combining all these dynamic techniques and styles. It's a collaboration of all his childhood passions and hobbies. Gael Garcia Bernal seems to have almost as much fun, especially in the dream sequences staged inside his own head where he is uncharacteristically (for the character of Stephane at least) confident and charismatic. Playing host to his own investigation/lesson into dream science, Stephane is commenting on the odd phenomena associated with brain activity, which often correlates with stimuli from his reality. Bernal's performance is excellent. The hand-held cinematography is also effective in transforming even the most mundane activity into something interesting and engaging. The dream-sequences, where the dialogue is sometimes inaudible and the framing quickened, are consistently outrageous. There are none more notable than when Stephane dreams his hands become absurdly giant. The animated sequences involving stop-motion are cleverly constructed using material scraps like cardboard, cellophane, felt and fabric. Full of hallucinatory magic and visual flair, The Science of Sleep is genuinely romantic and effortlessly comic.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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