Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie Log: The Science of Sleep

I was warned that The Science of Sleep was a weird movie, but I didn't realize how loose and gangly it was; there is something like a plot, but it's thin and runs in circles rather than going anywhere specific.

Gael Garcia Bernal is Stephane, a young man dragged from Mexico to France by his mother for a job that she completely misrepresented. His mother is then almost completely absent for the rest of the movie, despite being his landlord and aparrently living in the same building, which makes the viewer wonder why she went to the trouble. (This is only the first of many elements of The Science of Sleep that don't really make sense if thought about for more than a moment.)

Stephane has immense trouble separating his dream-life from real life, and the movie moves between the two realms regularly. Stephane is perhaps narcoleptic, or has some other exotic ailment; he drops in and out of a dream-state several times a day, and has come to behave as thoughtlessly and randomly in real life as he does in his dreams.

The plot, such as there is -- director Michel Gondry seems to be having a flashback to his earlier career making music videos -- concerns Stephane's half-hearted and self-doubting romantic pursuit of his neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourgh), whom he inadvertently lies to and never quite decides if he's more interested in her or her friend Zoe (Emma de Caunes).

Stephane, frankly, comes across as a stalker, and his inability to follow reality makes him both dangerous and at least mildly unhinged. The viewer is supposed to identify with his romantic nature, but he's really just a deeply confused (and confusing) screw-up who has no idea what he wants -- or even what he doesn't want -- and so just flails about until things happen, and then reacts badly to those things. My eleven-year-old son could probably match him for emotional maturity, which is a very bad thing in the protagonist of what wants to be a romance.

Science of Sleep is wonderfully visually inventive, and the dialogue is an enticing polyglot stew of raw nerves and confused misunderstandings. But it's ultimately unsuccessful as a movie because its main character keeps affecting a kicked-puppy-dog air for no reason, and can't manage to keep up a civil conversation for more than two sentences. It's probably lovely on a large screen, but, at home -- where it plays as a character piece -- Stephane is just too affected and deliberately weird for the viewer to warm up to him.

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