Reviews:: The Science of Sleep

No, before everyone gets their torches and pitchforks and tries to attack me in my swamp, like I’m some sort of anti-Michel Gondry ogre, let’s start with the fact I think Gondry’s use of the camera and imagination are second to none. He’s a creative mind and when focused or capped by time, his work is amazing.

That being said, we saw the screener for his new film – The Science of Sleep - last night and left surprisingly underwhelmed. Parts were fantastic without question, while others were intentionally confusing, and some others seemed unnecessary. It’s easy to attack a writer’s feature film debut (since this is the first time Gondry has taken charge of the writing), so I’ll start with the many things we loved about the film.

The idea in itself is fantastic. Gondry decides to intertwine the lives of a few simple people in one man’s (Stephane - played by Gael García Bernal) increasingly blurred division between dreams and reality. He builds the fantasy sets out of cardboard and household materials, without making the end result seem forced. The film is visually stunning, and engaging. At times, you have to simply sit back and watch, soaking in his vision. The little inventions (like a one-second time machine) he throws into the story are extremely clever and used perfectly. As expected, Gondry uses musically perfectly in the film, setting mood and tone - even using a nice take on the Velvet Underground classic After Hours - during a dream sequence. We even loved the playful, awkward interactions between Stephane and Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). At its best, these moments are very humorous and sweet.

At its worst, the relationship – or lack there of – is never developed or really addressed. Gondry’s characters flutter around love nonsensically, often masking true feelings with a crass offhanded remark or and self dismissive action. I understand that the goal of the film was not to have a happy ending. Stephane is not the hero, and admits early in the film he “never gets the girl he likes.” Instead of evolving any of the characters, Gondry settles on the whimsy of the events and leaves the story flat. He introduces Stephane’s family and co-worker’s, but more as a slight diversion. It’s almost cliché to use the perverted co-worker as comic relief, but Alain de Moyencourt stole most of the scenes he was in. Stephane’s character touches upon his mother’s inability to recover from the loss of her husband and her failed relationships, but everything is addressed in passing and never really addressed. Any revelations Stephane makes are quickly masked in his own ego and insecurity. Everyone alive knows that relationships and friendships are the most confusing aspect of life, but the confusion of these characters seemed more like a game than real life.

This film, like most creative projects will be hit and miss, but more accurately people will want to love it. If last night’s audience is any indicator, the film students will cite this movie as inspiring and life changing. Unfortunately, it seemed these same people who determined the film was amazing before even seeing it didn’t exactly get the film. The idea was to continually blur the line between Stephane’s dreams and his reality, but the audience felt any dream sequence had to be humorous. Just because Gondry continues to use visually appealing sets to help Stephane dream about his fears and dreams, doesn’t mean that the emotions are trivialized.

I think this film is worth watching and enjoying, but I don’t think this film is as good as the praise it will undoubtedly receive. Gondry’s childlike visions and imagination are still second to none, they just work much better with someone else’s structure.

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