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The Science of Sleep

Michel Gondry"s utterly hypnotizing and fascinating The Science of Sleep is not unlike one of his music videos--which is to say, avant-garde and not of this world.


The Science of Sleep starts off simple enough: Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) is hosting a subconscious cooking show, set in the depths of his mind, and on today"s program he"s making a stew whose ingredients comprise his dreams--pretty standard, really. As for the goings-on outside mind, Stephane has just moved to Paris to take on what he thinks is a job as a graphic artist, only to learn that it"s a mundane office job. But at least his coworker, Guy (Alain Chabat), provides ample entertainment. At home, his new next-door neighbors, Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Zoe (Emma de Caunes), keep his mind occupied, perhaps too much. After giving up his quasi-crush for the more outgoing Zoe, Stephane turns his efforts to Stephanie, who is a lot like him. He falls for her, but his love is unrequited. Things are further complicated when Stephane can no longer distinguish between his prolific dream life and his lovelorn flesh-and-blood one. Cue the cooking show.


In movies like The Science of Sleep, half the battle for actors would seem to be keeping their bearings of continuity amidst scenes that are, to say the least, non-linear. But these actors could handle this heady stuff in their, um, sleep. And Bernal--he of arguably the best resume of any working actor (including his role in upcoming drama Babel)--sorta does! He only adds to that resume with Sleep, in which he handles with care the childlike energy set forth by the script, but also does tormented well. The women in the film do nothing to dispel the assumption that all Frenchwomen are naturally beautiful--and "They"re all good actresses" is perpetuated here as well. Gainsbourg (21 Grams), daughter of music legend Serge, leads the way. She is oftentimes the impetus behind Stephane"s dreams, only to make stirring cameos in them. The predominantly French supporting cast plays similar roles, with similar success.


The Science of Sleep writer-director Michel Gondry is a happy mad genius. Like some auteurs of his mad-genius ilk, he acknowledges and touches upon life"s morose side, but it"s as if the sun is shining down on him even during his darkest moments. It"s what gives Sleep its distinctiveness, insofar as the story succeeds, and it gave his Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind its eternal sunshine. Sleep is to be considered a sort of autobiography--and nothing short of pure genius. Gondry"s story of pristine wonderment with the complexity of love and that complexity of love, in turn, spurring rampant subconscious activity seems highly personal and visceral. As for the visuals, Gondry"s true specialty, they"re beyond breathtaking and not unlike a child"s imagination set into motion. Gondry the music enthusiast--see Dave Chappelle's Block Party and countless music videos--also makes appearances, offering choice selections from right off his elite client roster, including The White Stripes.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.