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October 14, 2006

The Science of Sleep

Navel Gazing

Michel Gondry Remains Stuck In Puberty
By Cole Smithey

Science-of-sleep-poster-1 Navel-gazing director Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") wears his developmentally arrested heart on his sleeve, on his pants, and on his forehead in the most self-indulgent movie of 2006. Gael Garcia Bernal ("Babel") plays Stephane Miroux, an insecure and childish graphic artist who alternately woos, stalks, and terrorizes his neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who has the misfortune of living in the same Parisian apartment building that Stephane moves to from Mexico after his father’s death. Stephane’s crippling immaturity prevents him from pursuing a sexual relationship with Stephanie, so he substitutes arts-and-crafts overtures as a form romantic connection. Gondry intercuts plenty of Pee Wee Herman-inspired animated sequences to underscore his oh-so-precious view of puppy love infatuation. Anemic, weirdly depressing, and tedious in the extreme, "The Science of Sleep" is an excruciatingly puerile cinematic experience that has nothing to do with science or sleep.

The Online Film Critics Society (full disclosure: I am a member) rated "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" as the best film of the last ten years. It is a perplexing and embarrassing event that points out how desperate most critics are to praise any film with a whiff of Fellini-induced free will imagination. It delineates a great divide between how decorative visual compositions are perceived as more substantial than character studies set against social issues. It’s like saying that the colorful postcard segues of Lars Von Trier’s "Breaking The Waves" (1995) are better than the potent story that comes between them. To me, there is no comparison between Von Trier’s rigorous films and Michel Gondry’s infantile cinematic explorations. Von Trier does his homework and creates challenging films that press the boundaries of filmic expression and thematic complexity, while Gondry intoxicates himself with his own flatulence and hopes that the audience will be entertained by the process.

"The Science of Sleep" opens with a reverie sequence where Stephane dreams of hosting a public access brand of one-man TV show from a cardboard set. Stephane jumps around the one-room scenery playing a drum kit one minute before divulging his "recipe for dreams" that includes "events of the day, random thoughts, memories, and songs." The ever-watchable Gael Garcia Bernal captures our attention at the outset as a seemingly intelligent character who we become increasingly distanced from due to his spiraling inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

Stephane arrives at his childhood residence in Paris at the behest of his mother Christine (Miou-Miou) who convinces him that a job waits with a local calendar publisher who will utilize Stephane's distinctly home-schooled sense of graphic art; he paints disasters and calls it "disasterology." Stephane’s low self-esteem relegates him to accept a menial type-setting job with the calendar printer after the owner makes it clear that they have no interest in Stephane’s dumb illustrations.

On his way into his apartment building, Stephane meets his new neighbor Stephanie and her friend Zoe (Emma de Caunes). Stephane immediately falls for Zoe. He doesn’t let on that he lives in the building as he makes friends with the girls. However, he realizes that the hip Zoe is out of his league and that he has more in common with the artsy-fartsy Stephanie. Stephane shows Stephanie an appliance he’s created that allows the wearer to "see life in 3-D," forgetting that life is already three-dimensional. The pair agree to build a diorama around a broken toy horse that Stephanie found on the street. The horse becomes a pivotal plot point when Stephane sneaks into Stephanie’s apartment and inadvertently exposes the depth of his confused romantic obsession.

What’s most astonishing is that audiences and critics embrace Gondry’s repetitive incarnations of dysfunctional people and relationships. There is nothing cool about people who can’t or won’t grow up. "The Science of Sleep" is damaged goods.

Rated R. 105 mins. (D) (One Star)



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