What does one get when they take the bare boned structure of a Peter Pan redux and hand it over to a technofied madman absurdist who managed to make even Jim Carrey a warm and moving - albeit temporarily - human being once upon a time? You get The Science of Sleep, the trilingual, part-Freudian part-Dali, latest enormity from Michel Gondry, French-born American-hybrid enfent terrible who gave us The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a few years back (not to mention some of the most inovative music videos for the likes of The White Stripes, Beck, The Chemical Brothers and Björk).
Take Mexican-born international heartthrob Gael García Bernal - the Brando below the border - as the living embodiment of a modern day metrosexual Peter Pan (or possibly just Pan the satyr) and toss in earthy English-French actress, Charlotte Gainsbourg - who could very well be the sex bomb offspring of Greta Garbo and a Picasso painting - as Pan's reluctant and resplendent Wendy and throw in a few "wild boys" (and girls) for good measure, and you have (as I said before) The Science of Sleep, Gondry's best and most audacious - and probably least accessible unfortunately - film to date.
Full of Granfalloonerous mysticism, sleepwalking its way through a dream of a film, Bernal, as Stéphane, an imaginative young French/Mexican man who cannot quite decipher the dreamworld from reality. While he sleeps he oneirically stages his own TV talk show with walls, chairs, tables and even a camera made out of cardboard and invites guests such as his beloved yet meddling mother (played by Fench legend Miou-Miou) and the girl who lives across the hall, Stéphanie (Gainsbourg).
In love with Stéphanie and unsurely leaving love notes (while asleep?) under her door - with queries on recieving her friend's phone number instead - and dreaming of walking through the snow, only to wake up with his feet stretched out in the freezer which sits inexplicably at the end of his bed, Stéphane is a contradiction even in his own mind - an absurdist Benjamin Braddock for the 21st Century. Bernal and Gainsbourg play off each other with a great giddiness that aims toward a childlike first love - riding the skies upon a magical stuffed horse come to life (with the help of Stéphane's mechanical genius) and traversing back and forth into each other's dream states.
Magic horses and dream dates aside, The Science of Sleep plays out as if Gondry has finally been allowed into the candy room that has been denied him so many times before (alas, to sit and wait at the door) and all traditional cinematic bets are off. Unfortunately - especially considering the rather staid audiences that make up American movie-goers - this film probably does not stand a chance at success in the states. Even those that (superficially) loved the "quirky" love story that was Eternal Sunshine may not be ready for an existential romance such as this - Jan Svankmajer meets Jacques Rivette meets Frank Capra meets Jacques Demy meets Jean-Paul Sartre. [11/21/06]