Pythonesque. Random. Surreal. Wonderful. Puzzling. Imaginative. Dreamy.
In Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, Gael García Bernal plays Stéphane Miroux, a young man who has trouble distinguishing between reality and dreams. His life and job is so grey and boring when compared to his imagination.
Stéphane has returned to France from Mexico, and his mother has arranged for him to take a job in a small calendar-making firm. But he is disappointed when he isn’t allowed to have any part in the creative side of the process. His “Disastrology” portfolio of twelve images of well-known crashes and catastrophes is not well-received, and he’s reduced to typesetting.
In his dreams, Stéphane presents a TV show, exploring a fantasy world with his guests—family, friends, colleagues. Oversized hands, jumping out of windows, toys coming to life, a one second time machine.
He slowly falls for Stéphanie who’s just moved into the flat next door. Her name is no accident ... she’s somewhat of a kindred spirit, but a little more rooted in reality. Together they embark on arts and crafts projects in her flat. But Stéphane’s dreams start to invade his day time “normality”.
The film is strangle bilingual, flicking between English and French (Stéphane’s a bit shy about speaking French all the time in France) with the snatches of Spanish and the odd pun embedded in the subtitles for good measure.
There is lots of humour, verbal and visual, scattered throughout the film. I love the moment in which he wakes up with his feet in the freezer, and the cardboard car chase (vehicles made of corrugated cardboard and toilet roll tubes) was a favourite moment.
“The brain is the most complex thing in the world ... and it’s behind the nose!”
Some of the dream sequences are superb, and the model making and stop-go animation must have taken months of labour. Other than the one obvious use of the “blue-screen” chroma key effect, all the other interaction of actors in animated landscapes were filmed by placing the actors in front of a large screen showing the pre-recorded backdrop animation. So the actors were able to engage with what they saw, and didn’t have to imagine anything.
A weird film - don’t expect it to change your life or your outlook. But it’s still an enjoyable insight into the magical world of Stéphane. It’s in the QFT until Thursday 1st March if you want to catch it locally.
To finish ... I’m a bit confused why Philip French’s mini review in the Guardian refers to the two main characters as Gabriel and Gabrielle (instead of Stéphane and Stéphanie … maybe his scribbled in a darkened cinema theatre let him down?