The Science of Sleep (*****)

(2006) dir. Michel Gondry – w/ Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, plus also Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou, Emma de Caunes, Aurélia Petit, Sacha Bourdo, Pierre Vaneck, Stéphane Metzger, Alain de Moyencourt, and so on.


Synopsis: Any ‘plot summary’ you get is going to be deficient in some way; this is a movie that veers back and forth between the mundane and the serene, touching on both the surreal and the concrete with astonishing aplomb. It’s a movie that confuses dreaming and reality, but not in the tricksy way of a movie like Fight Club. The basis for the whole thing is Stéphane (Gael García Bernal) moving back home, getting a job, and falling for his next-door neighbor Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), dreaming in-between and along the way.


Review: This is one of the most gracefully heartfelt (and heart-breaking) movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s by turns sweet and cruel, fantastical and earth-bound, heart-breaking and hopeful. In spite of the props and dream-sequences and sometimes goofy dialogue, this is an eminently believable movie: I didn’t get the sense of watching a movie, but of watching a story unfold, of seeing something actually happening. The things I saw happen made me wince, cringe, laugh, sigh, grin.

“The Science of Sleep”, for what it’s worth, is not an American film. It’s done by the fellow (Michel Gondry) who brought us “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, but it’s light-years beyond that, if it’s even really fair to compare the movies. The people in this movie talk across languages and boundaries; they talk in French, English, Spanish, and a jumble in-between. The misunderstandings in this story come from barriers erected by language, emotion, manners, and chance. Stéphane tries to untangle these misunderstandings in his dreams. Whether or not he’s able to do this is maybe open to interpretation.

Stéphane and Stéphanie make things with their hands—crafts, gadgets, dreams—and this is how they relate to one another, and how they push forward even when they can’t relate. Imagination. Even the people around them, people you may not necessarily like, or sympathize for, prove to have their own creative sides, depths you didn’t expect them to have. This is a story that doesn’t try to explain so much as it tries to explore. It’s genuine, and tender, and harsh, and brittle, and confused, just like all the people populating its interior; just like life.

Rating: [•••••] out of [•••••]