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THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP

Director: MICHEL GONDRY

FRANCE-ITALY • 2006 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 105 MIN.


Michel Gondry’s first film as a writer-director is a romantic comedy, but not as we know it. In contrast to the cerebral mind games of the Charlie Kaufman-scripted ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, this off-kilter love story contrasts the tricky emotional complexities of modern-day dating with its man-child protagonist’s regressive dream world—a surreal, stop-motion universe where lovers ride mechanised toy horses past cellophane skies and cotton wool clouds.

Following the death of his Mexican father, Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) returns to Paris, where his mother (Miou-Miou) has lined up an apartment and a graphic design job. But despite the irrepressible jokiness of his colleagues, the tedious days of cut-and-paste calendar-assembly lack the imaginative richness of Stephane’s dream world. Here he presents shows on his own TV station (complete with cardboard cameras), takes control of the office like a proper grown-up, and flies over a papier-mâche Paris. A playful flirtation with his prickly, indifferent neighbour Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) revolves around a shared passion for fetishised toys and child-like games. But how far will she go to share in his dream world, and how much will Stephane risk to meet her halfway to reality?

Despite a potentially creepy air of infantilism, Gondry’s plot-less, ambient romanticism is saved from alienating whimsicality by his eccentric sense of humour, a pervasive romantic yearning and some extraordinary images. Gael Garcia Bernal reveals a hitherto untapped gift for comedy, there is a sharper edge to Gainsbourg familiar gawky girlishness, and Alain Chabat threatens to steal the show as Stephane’s romantic, philosophising co-worker, Guy.—Nigel Floyd.

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