Michel Gondry’s screenwriting debut couldn’t be more off-beat even if it was tied to Charlie Kaufman. The Science of Sleep gives viewers a passageway into the Frenchman’s extraordinary imagination, travelling far beyond reality to reproduce something verging on the masterful. Apparently, the film stemmed from a bed-time story invented by a then ten-year old Sam Mounier (Respiro, Messages From the Sea) before Gondry picked up a pencil and started scrawling down the soon-to-be script. The plot remains minimal but only because it has to be. It comes second as is often the case with Gondry, because the film’s dream sequences – filled with colour and imagery — carry the film as its vision and charm cleverly reveals itself to the viewer. And the filmmaker in his entirety is seen from beginning to end, untouched and alone in his creativity.
The Science of Sleep tells the story of Stephane Miroux, who is seen returning to his native Paris after the news of his father’s passing. Stephane is a shy and troubled young man who prefers to venture into dreams of his own imagining than to face up to the somewhat grey reality of his surroundings. His artistic talent is not recognised and he finds himself stuck in a go-nowhere job as a typesetter. By chance, he meets an entrancing young woman, Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and is found juggling his ‘awake’ life with his dream world.
The screenplay provides the perfect tool for Gondry’s distinct direction. The script is filled with a soft and earthy tone. The dialogue is a mix of English, French and Spanish – very much in line with the way the film jumps from reality to unreality. On top of this, the dialogue is also unfailingly entertaining – hilarious but with a serious level of explanation lacking.
‘It’s like touching your penis with your left hand’,
‘I don’t have a penis’,
‘But you have a left hand…’
The imagery and the visuals are perfect and no less than is expected from the master of peculiar concept features. Reality shifts into the dreamlike smoothly and unknowingly as Gondry toys and dances with his protagonist’s imagination. The viewer is taken into the strange and the surreal in the form of a cellophane-filled bathtub or the image of a Paris constructed out of cardboard. The viewer relates to the sequences because they effectively capture what it is to be asleep and what it is to be dreaming – hence the title. It should also be noted that Gondry found exactly what he needed in Gael Garcia Bernal, whose out-of-focus, well-meaning bewilderment works magnificently alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg and together they connect almost as fluidly and beautifully as Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in the Gondry/Kaufman collaboration, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The sense of humour found in the film reflects the filmmaker’s subtlety and his comic genius as only a mirror would. The feel of the film is typically anti-Hollywood, only pushing the boundaries of the medium further. There is an incredible amount of care that goes into the film and can be found throughout, namely in the characters. And while the film feels somewhat lighter and softer than former Gondry masterpieces, it is for precisely this reason that it should be set apart.
The Science of Sleep really is a dream, whether you watch it wide awake during the day with a large mug of coffee, or in the middle of the night, stoned out of your mind. Michel Gondry found something important in this idea and turned it into something that should remain engraved in the history of French cinema for a long time. This is a very important film, undoubtedly.
The Science of Sleep at IMDb
The Science of Sleep at Rotten Tomatoes
The Science of Sleep at Wikipedia
The Science of Sleep (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb
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