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The Independent Critic

Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Miou Miou, Alain Chabat
Michel Gondry
Rated R
105 Mins.
Warner Independent
 "The Science of Sleep" Review 
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Close your eyes. Open your heart.
I've long held the somewhat morbid, curious belief that there are those among us who simply cannot be loved.

They may be lusted after. They may be cared for. They may be liked. You may even believe with all your heart that you love them.

You do not.

Michel Gondry, most noted to American audiences for his widely praised "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Dave Chappelle's Block Party," delves deeply within the wounded and fragmented psyche' that seeks and believes in a love that doesn't truly exist in his latest film and first full-length script, "The Science of Sleep."

"The Science of Sleep" is a visual masterpiece perfectly blending both the mundane, disappointing realities and the fragile, emotionally charged fantasies of young Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal). We are introduced to Stephane in his dreams, a place where he lives frequently creating "Stephane TV," an imaginary world of hopes, dreams, beliefs and life experiences. He relives traumas, processes through challenging conversations and alters undesired endings in this world that seems to magically appear during his every moment of sleep.

When Stephane moves back to Paris from Mexico under false pretenses offered by his mother (Miou-Miou), his ability to balance his dream world and his real life becomes more and more impaired. Stephane believes his mother has arranged a job as an illustrator with a calendar company, only to face the stark reality that his true job is merely the menial task of "gluing pages" each and every day in a basement.

After his first day on the job, he returns home only to be practically run over by a piano, an accident that leads him to the discovery of Zoe (Emma de Caunes) and the quieter, more reserved Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

The Gondry world is a world where love can be fate solely on the basis of something as simple as Stephane/Stephanie, oh my it must be meant to be. If you would take Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey's relationship in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and place it in kindergarten, you would begin to grasp the whimsical, innocent and often delusional ground upon which the ever so chaste, yet passionate relationship between Stephane and Stephanie is going. Stephanie, too, is taken to flights of artistic fancy, though she's infinitely more grounded than Stephane and challenged to resist her painful awareness that this man/child is not the one for her...yet, he might be the only one for her.

"The Science of Sleep" is part fantasy, part hopeless love story, part hopeful love story, part tortured soul journey and an even greater part childlike dream. Gondry's script doesn't make sense, not even in the Charlie Kaufman sense, and to attempt to draw a plot, a storyline or a beginning and an end out of what is presented here is, quite simply, futile.

Seldom have I witnessed a film so exhilarating yet uterly frustrating. Even Gondry's ambiguous ending is one that perfectly blends the ideas that dreams come true, but not always. It is, in fact, both a surprisingly sweet, happy ending and yet a disturbing, hopeless one.

Bernal offers his second brilliant performance of 2006, following his earlier turn in "The King." Both performances are worthy of award-season recognition, though Bernal's likely hope rests with the Independent Spirit Awards. Here, Bernal throws himself into the character of Stephane with a zest, an innocence and a depth that feels so natural it often appears like Bernal's performance is stream-of-consciousness. Bernal again reminds us that he is one of the bravest and boldest actors working today.

Likewise, as the object of Stephane's affection, Gainsbourg is a remarkable blend of common sense, artistic whimsy and vulnerable young woman. She knows the truth, it seems, of Stephane. Yet, she finds herself repeatedly unable to escape her own flights of fancy long enough to resist this unhealthy attraction. Gainsbourg's performance is so natural, so low-key that it becomes remarkably easy to see why Stephane believes she is unlike any woman he's ever met.

"The Science of Sleep" is destined to be an incredibly hard sell for American audiences used to straightforward storylines, big budget special effects and mindless forays into entertainment. Gondry's production design often utilizes everyday materials to illustrate the fantastic nature of Stephane's world. Quite often, Gondry utilizes cellophane as rivers, cardboard boxes as walls and cars, small household objects as a wide variety of tools, and even everyday trash becomes priceless heirlooms in Gondry's world. Gondry so perfectly blends the fantastic and the realistic that from scene to scene it becomes difficult to discern between Stephane's dreams and his reality, a possible reflection of the very challenges facing Stephane and Stephanie.

Along with the performance of Miou-Miou as Stephane's mother, "The Science of Sleep" features stellar supporting performances by Stephane's co-workers, an odd assortment of individuals who are largely overworked, bitter, underappreciated and awfully funny. Alain Chabat stands out as Guy, while Aurelia Petit is delightful as Martine, a sort of friskier and fiestier take on Emily Blunt's character from "The Devil Wears Prada."

As visually compelling and emotionally intriguing as is "The Science of Sleep," Gondry does, at times, lose control of the festivities. This primarily occurs in his screenplay, which lacks the discipline and focus of Kaufman's script for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Yet, every time it seems that "The Science of Sleep" is going to spiral out of control Gondry reins it back in largely on the back of Bernal's and Gainsbourg's performances.

"The Science of Sleep" takes place largely in France, though Gondry interweaves French, Spanish and English throughout the film. Bernal, in only his second English language performance, again proves strong in handling a wide diversity of roles in multiple languages. The film features brief nudity, both male (Bernal) and female (Petit), however, its "R" rating is ridiculously inappropriate.

I dare say that years from now "The Science of Sleep" will be seen as a daring, bold and visionary film thanks to the unique writing and direction of Michel Gondry. Featuring exceptional performances from Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg, "The Science of Sleep" is a chaotic, disturbing, hopeful, hopeless, disorganized and visually stunning film unlike any other you will see this year.

I've long believed that there are people in life who simply cannot be loved.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm not. 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic