It’s a classic story; boy meets girl, boy falls for girl’s friend, boy confuses dreams and reality, boy realises he loves the original girl, boy builds mechanical pony and blah, blah, blah. All told with uniform, by the numbers conformity by Michel Gondry. We must have seen it a million times.
If ever a director has managed to film the contents of his own head then it is Gondry, The Science of Sleep is almost stream of conciousness movie making. A man making a film about dreams from a man fuelled by them is a clear labour of love.
Gael Garcia Bernal plays Stephane, a man returning to Paris to take up a job his mother has found for him after his father’s death in Mexico. Stephane moves into his old room, surrounded by the toys and characters he created in his childhood. He meets his new neighbour Stephanie (Gainsbourg) and her friend Zoe, falling instantly for Zoe, he rejects Stephanie although they are the better match. The job provided for him is interminably dull, his workmates less so. His escape comes through dreams but gradually they begin to infiltrate his reality as well.
Gondry has always infused his films with a childish glee, populating them with grown up kids. His characters are always happiest doing what they love, never seem concerned about money or material gain and are either repressed (Joel in Eternal Sunshine, Mike in BeKind Rewind) or totally free with their emotions (all the women). They often operate outside society, ignoring social norms, following their hearts over their heads, reflecting their creator fractally and sometimes totally.
Science is set in Paris and within Stephane’s mind (sometimes both at the same time). The Paris scenes are filmed in a handheld, natural style whlst the dreams are stuffed with cardboard, stop motion animation, cheap effects and over acting. The contrast is beautiful, highlighting the gap between menial work and what every mind is capable of.
The actors must be fearless, following Gondry’s vision without really having any idea where it is going. Bernal and Gainsbourg jump in with both feet, giving performances that, in the hands of a less skillfull director, could be seen as naive and foolish rather than brave and confident. They are supported by a willing group, Stephane’s workmates and boss are particularly fun to be around, giving extra comic relief in a film that never takes itself too seriously.
Gondry doesn’t let anything get in his way, low budgets, limited locations, an almost total lack of plot are brushed away in atide of inventiveness. Anything can be acheived, anything is possible. He could still be making films in his parent’s basement. His films give the impression of having been assembled hastily from whatever was lying around and that’s maybe the biggest compliment of all.
A lo-fi film maker making hi-fi films. Praise for Gondry is deserved indeed.
NB-this review was written before anyone at EBFS has seen “The Green Hornet” and will adjust it accordingly.