The Science of Sleep

Year: 2007
Production Co: Participant Productions
Director: Michel Gondry
Writer: Michel Gondry
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg
When MTV first aired on August 1, 1981 it formed a new economy where the visual was worth its marketing weight in gold as much as the music was to record sales, and the music video director quickly became the new superstar.

There aren't only a million music video directors trying to make it in feature films, it seems every second cool director working today (Mark Romanek, Marcus Nispel, Alexandre Aja, Zack Snyder) is from music videos or TV ads. Because the new breed of director is used to having between 30 seconds to 4 minutes to get his message across, they've bought the language of urgent pacing and cutting to movies, perfect for two generations of kids bought up with music videos.

Michel Gondry is one such alumnus of the school of music videos. He rode to success inextricably linked to screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who quickly established himself as the enfant terrible of the wacky idea with the skewed execution.

After the inauspicious Human Nature, Kaufman and Gondry's respective talents gelled in the most beautiful way in 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Gondry made a point of breaking with Kaufman for his latest effort The Science of Sleep, keen to prove himself an all-round storyteller and not just a great director coasting along on Kaufman's inventive scripts.

It's the tale of shy but imaginative artist Stephané (Bernal) who moves to Paris to take what turns out to be a dead end job at a calendar publisher. He also falls in love with the beautiful musician Stephanie (Gainsbourg) who lives across the hall from him but the terminally self conscious and immature Stephané is never quite brave enough to stand up, be a man and tell her how he feels. He can't even admit he lives five feet away, hiding from her whenever he leaves or comes back to his flat.

Instead, Stephané retreats into the world of his dreams, and it's there Gondry shines, constructing scenes of playful and surreal imagery that do indeed look like our dreams. Dazzling sequences such as Stephané's giant-handed fight with a co-worker or the motifs of the toy horse and cotton wool clouds are part of it. The most weirdly funny is Stephané TV, a show shot in a completely cardboard studio where Stephané showcases his dreams as they happen.

Where Eternal Sunshine was actually very plot driven with a robust story that propelled you along for the ride of Gondry's brilliantly designed visuals, here's there's no such strength in the narrative and it feels a little more gimmicky, feeling like Gondry's jumping up and down to show you how clever he is. Hold The Science of Sleep up against his other efforts and you'll understand how critical the story is to sustain a two-hour film.

But the design and execution of the visuals are worthy of praise and The Science of Sleep deserves enough kudos for being anything but another by-numbers studio rom-com. If he gets back with Kaufman again we could have another modern masterpiece.

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