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The science of sleep (Mark's take)

01/11/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper

Buy The science of sleep in the USA - or Buy The science of sleep in the UK

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What sounded like a promising premise turns into a gratuitous exercise in not-very-interesting surrealism, says Mark. There may or may not be a complete story underneath all of this, but if there is, it is probably dull and not worth digging for. A young man returning to France after many years in Mexico finds his dreams mixing with reality until we lose interest sorting one from the other and putting together his story.

Writer/director Michael Gondry bets his film that the viewer will be so engrossed in his characters and images, they will not mind having the rug pulled form under them time and again. He loses that bet.

Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

It is certainly possible to have a story in which it is sometimes difficult to know what is dream and what is reality. But as soon as there are dream images in a sequence one must assume we are seeing a dream. However, nearly all sequences of The Science Of Sleep have something to indicate that sequence is a dream. It becomes a tiresome effort to sort dream from reality and even if one succeeds and there is enough non-dream to piece together a story, the best we would have for a plot is a tiresome romance. Lovers break up and get back together. It is hardly worth the effort.

Writer/director Michael Gondry (director of the much better Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) does not even seem to understand how dreams work. Dreams are frequently surrealistic, but not all surrealism is necessarily dreamlike. I am reminded of Peter Dinklage's character's complaint in LIVING IN OBLIVION. He has been cast to play in a dream sequence being filmed but walks off the set complaining that they feel they need a dwarf for a dream sequence. He himself is a dwarf, but says that even he does not dream about dwarves. However, films rarely get the real feel of dreams, at least my dreams, correctly. Maybe some people do have weird dreams like something out of Fellini or Cocteau or Dali, but I know I do not. My dreams may have some strange situations, but the surroundings do not look visually very surreal. Perhaps your dreams are different.

Stéphane (played by Gael García Bernal of Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN and THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) returns from many years in Mexico to Paris to live in the apartment house his mother (Miou-Miou) owns and to get a job as a creative artist. He gets a job in a company that makes calendars. The work is drudgery and not at all what he wanted. His boss feigns some interest in his creative calendar designs but wisely is not willing to commit to using those ideas. His big idea is a calendar that commemorates great disasters.

Along the way he discovers that he is attracted to his neighbour and a friend of hers. The neighbour is Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her friend is Zoe (Emma de Caunes). The similarity of names suggests that Stéphanie may be just some part of Stéphane if this is all a dream. But then maybe she is not. Both have the same hobby of making homemade stuffed animals, and that is a foundation for a firm friendship.

It is hard to tease even this much story from the film because we keep discovering what we are seeing is one dream after another. Stéphane dreams repeatedly that he is the host of a television show that is about his life. The name of the program or perhaps the station is Stéphane. Each night he sees his life from the vantage point of this television show. Some scenes we know are dream sequences and some we are not sure. Much of the film seems to be made up of little skits involving the characters. Suddenly Stéphane will have hands that are three feet long. His friends from work are fairly surreal even in scenes that may not be dream sequences.

What does this film all mean? What has really happened in the real world of the film? To paraphrase Freud, sometime a self-indulgent, disorganized collection of scenes is just a self-indulgent, disorganized collection of scenes.

I rate The Science Of Sleep a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2006 Mark R. Leeper

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