Wednesday, February 28, 2007

28th Feb 07 - The Science of Sleep

A lovely treat this week. Not only do I get to watch a fabulous film (more on that later) but I get to sit a comfortable distance from the screen. I was beginning to think the cinema was a visual punishment for all the insults I may have doled out in these reviews. It seems that’s not the case, though, so I’ll just carry on mocking people.

Anyway, I’ve been waiting to see The Science of Sleep since last year when it pretended to be released, before cruelly withdrawing itself until now. My excitement came from director Michel Gondry, a man who cut his teeth in music videos. His videos were always the ones that made me go ‘wow’, be they for Bjork, Chemical Brothers, White Stripes or even Kylie, they always displayed Gondry’s bizarre visual style, and let him play around with many different effects. His foray into film began with my favourite screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, starting with the unusual Human Nature before popping out a film that now sits in my top 5 of all time – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The Science of Sleep (SoS – because it’s too long a title to keep writing it all the time) is Gondry’s first feature length entirely under his own steam. And boy is it good.

The thing with Gondry is he’s obsessed with dreams, and has a funny knack of transferring that strange muddled dream-world on to film. So SoS is all about St├ęphane, a young guy with vivid dreams and difficulty in separating them from the real world – a characteristic that makes things a tad difficult when he starts to fall in love with his neighbour. The film is essentially one of those romantic ones with irritating misunderstandings that have “hilarious” results, but under the whimsical, fantastical brain of Gondry it takes on a whole new tone. I think the best word to describe it is charming. Utterly charming.

Mixing live action with a variety of animation techniques creates a sort of child-like quality to the film (Gondry’s passion for animation is apparent back in his music video days – check out his White Stripes video made almost entirely of lego). Toy horses suddenly scamper across the floor, water becomes animated sweet wrappers, the outside world becomes a pulsating mass of cardboard cut-outs. It could all very easily slip into a mess of ‘huh?’ but Gondry keeps everything in check, with a firm enough grip on reality to make a convincing story.

Gondry penned the script himself and creates flowing, genuinely funny dialogue. It’s helped in its delivery by the lead, Gael Garcia Bernal, who is quite frankly incredibly gorgeous. He’s also a pretty fine actor, making St├ęphane sympathetic, endearing, a little bit insane and also quite sexy all at once. He switches from sulking toddler, to loved-up fool, to frightened child, to slightly obsessed crazy, to excitable tot, and not once do you lose belief in his character, even when he comes out with statements like “I like your boobs. They're very friendly and unpretentious.”

I watched this film with a continuous smile broken only by bouts of laughter. At the risk of sounding like one of those pompous critics amused at the slightest thing, it was a joy to watch. My admiration for Gondry’s style probably helps. Though it’s nice to see he’s finally been given a full outlet for his dream fascination, I’d be interested to see where he goes next. I hope he can move his imagination on to other things rather than get stuck doing ‘the dream thing’. But that’s all irrelevant right now. The Science of Sleep told a familiar story in an original way, was visually fascinating and had a big ol’ heart beating behind all of it. It was the most enjoyable film so far this year, I’d say, and for that it storms in with a CF4. Who’s going to step up and try to beat that one? Go on – I dare you.

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