Opposites abstract in ‘The Science of Sleep’
November 6, 2006
What can I say about French filmmaker Michel Gondry’s “The Science of Sleep?”Well, it’s definitely a foreign film. But as such, it’s a story born of an idea rather than an industry.Set in Paris, the movie stars Gael García Bernal, of “The Motorcycle Diaries” and the soon-to-be-released “Babel,” as a boyish man who can’t entirely discern his dream life from his waking life.
Gondry, who wrote and directed the film, weaves together dream sequences and waking moments as skillfully as he blurs the lines between opposing forces in the story: sleep and dreams, science and art, child and adult, male and female, sex and romance, life and death. Gondry doesn’t resort to modern digital trickery to effect the dream states. Instead, he relies on the tactile stop-motion style that gave life to surreal characters like Gumby and Mr. Bill – although he elevates the elementary technique to the level of art. The style works, and it gives the scenes a sense of reality that’s lost in a digital fantasyland.But no matter how successful Gondry is at recreating that dreamy feel, the film wouldn’t work if we didn’t care about the characters. Gondry delivers in that category as well. As the film progresses, Bernal, as Stéphane, regresses to behaviors that are almost childlike, earning him compassion as he tries to make sense of emotions that are as nonsensical to him as his dreams.As her names suggests, the object of Stéphane’s love, Stéphanie, is in so many ways an extension of the main character rather than a separate entity. She, too, is searching for love. And, as an artist, she appreciates the creativity in Stéphane’s confused states, while remaining confused about her own romantic feelings.
A language barrier between Stéphane, who is half Mexican and half French but speaks mostly Spanish and English, and the rest of the characters, who deliberately blend French with English, sparks humorous confusion for Stéphane and moviegoers.The otherness of the film, contrasted with formulaic Hollywood fare, offers a fabulous reminder of the comatose state of American movies. Don’t get me wrong. There are occasions when I want to know what I’m getting into, and a pre-packaged romantic comedy or action-packed thriller usually delivers exactly what the trailer offers.
But for those occasions when I don’t want someone else to drive my brain, the unpredictability of a foreign film jars me awake, much like snapping out of a classroom daydream after realizing the teacher has been droning on for 45 minutes.And so, “The Science of Sleep” jolts Aspen viewers out of a canned blockbuster haze at 7:30 p.m. today, the last of three showings at the Wheeler Opera House.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org