“Randomness is very difficult to achieve”, or so says Stéphanie, the love interest to our main character, Stephane, in the gloriously weird and absolutely wonderful surreal comedy The Science of Sleep (La Science des rêves). Michel Gondry has proven himself to be a remarkable director of surreal and mind-bending comedies that both serve as entertaining and also very thought-provoking. Perhaps his best-known work is the 2004 independent romance hit Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which showed both Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey in radically different lights that we expected. As great as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was, it was this film, The Science of Sleep, that truly speaks to Gondry’s talents as a surrealist filmmaker, and while I wasn’t expecting too much from this film, I found myself adoring it much more than I thought I would.
The Science of Sleep is about a young man named Stephane Miroux, a timid and shy, but also very talented, man who is forced to move back to France after his father dies, and being lured back by his mother, he is offered a job at a calendar publisher, only to discover it isn’t the creative job he expected, but rather a menial, meaningless job of sticking pieces of paper onto one another. He also finds himself forming a bizarre relationship with his neigbour, Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a sweet and charming and also equally artistic and strangely insecure young woman who shares his love of the strange and far-fetched, but doesn’t share his adoration and feelings of love. Of course, there is a twist to this relatively simple story – Stephane is someone who dreams far too much, and he is not able to distinguish between reality and his dreams, which causes him to do some things that he would have never meant to do had he been awake while doing them.
What makes The Science of Sleep so unique is Gondry’s use of both extremes of his talent – he is able to capture the quiet and melodic interactions between characters in the real life, as natural and revealing, but also utilizes his ability to make a completely off-the-wall, incredibly bizarre surrealist comedy in the realm of dreams. Gondry doesn’t hold anything back – he truly defines what a surrealist comedy would be. Quite honestly, if Salvador Dali was to make a romantic comedy, it would probably not look much different to The Science of Sleep. Of course, we need to remember that this film was independent, and there isn’t much demand for such a strange film, so funding was obviously something to be considered, and the fact that Gondry made a film this visually impressive with the little amount he had to do it with. It is something that makes Gondry one of the most fascinating and ingenious filmmakers working today, and is an aspect that made The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind absolutely wonderful films, because there is a wonderful dedication to the heart and soul of the film.
The dream sequences in The Science of Sleep are some of the most well-written, most brilliantly directed moments in cinema I have ever seen. Quirky and very strange, they are a rare combination of 1960s-era cosmopolitan glamour, combined with early 2000s-era idiosyncracy and insecurity. Taking the form of an elaborate educational television show, it shows Stephane as a charismatic and knowledgeable host that teaches us about what goes on in our heads, all the while experiencing the bizarre and surreal dreams that go on in his head. These scenes never seem forced or out of place, and instead add wonderfully to the experience – hilariously funny, they explain some real-life situations that I am sure all of us have experienced at one point – and where else are you going to find a film that explains exactly what dreams are made of, in such a sweet and endearing way?
Gael Garcia Bernal is becoming one of my favorite actors, and considering the filmography he has accumulated in such a short time, he is most certainly one of our most undersung talents. I previously reviewed Rosewater, an intense and thought-provoking political thriller, also starring Garcia Bernal. The Science of Sleep has him in a completely different kind of role, but not one any less fascinating. Garcia Bernal has a talent for playing characters that have the ability to be charismatic and endearing, but also slightly arrogant and self-centered, and he finds the perfect balance constantly. His role as Stephane just proves that he is an absolutely brilliant actor. He gives the character an endearing quality previously unseen in many other similar performances, and we can’t help want him to succeed, even when he is blantantly trying to be malicious or problematic. I wouldn’t dare call this the best performance Gael Garcia Bernal gives, because each time I see a new performance from him, it somehow is better than the last. However, this is definitive proof that he is one of the most talented actors working today, and the sooner he starts being noticed more, the faster his career will take off – however, if him staying relatively under the radar as a leading man means that he will make more films like The Science of Sleep, I am all for it!
Of course, Gael Garcia Bernal is just one half of the success of this film. The other half is the luminous and magnetic Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays the shy but intelligent neighbor and eventual love interest of Garcia Bernal’s character. Gainsbourg is an actress who has also not been given the appreciation she deserves, but it seems like she much prefers the route of being an arthouse queen rather than a blockbuster leading lady. She is severely underappreciated, which is strange considering how talented she actually is. Her performance in The Science of Sleep is one of the most endearing performances I’ve seen in a long time, and playing the innocent and conflicted Stéphanie, Gainsbourg is given many instances to excel. She and Garcia Bernal have undeniable chemistry, which makes The Science of Sleep one of the most romantic films ever made, because it doesn’t matter how romantic your story is, or how grandiose the actions of love between the two characters are, it all depends on how much chemistry the performers have, and such rare and unique chemistry is rarely ever seen in cinema lately. Much like Garcia Bernal, Gainsbourg surprises me with every performance I see her in, and it would be strange to say this, but most actors have their breakout moment where they are a revelation of sorts – every performance Gainsbourg has ever given fits this criteria, and quite simply, she is one of the most talented actresses working today.
The Science of Sleep is such a fantastic film. Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg are beyond breathtaking, and special mention must go to Alain Chabat, who is hilarious as the dirty-minded co-worker of Stephane that constantly has his mind in the gutter. Gondry has made a truly wonderful film, filled with memorable imagery and wonderful performances, and has crafted a beautiful, hilarious and very meaningful film. I urge everyone to seek it out – it truly is a fantastic film, and one of those films that just don’t get made very often. It is a lovely film and one of the best surprises I’ve had in a long time. Absolutely stellar work from a wonderful cast and an undeniably genius director.