Low-Tech Dreams 

Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep is charmingly tactile and refreshingly old-fashioned.

In an era dominated by computer-generated special effects and other expensive production trickery, Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep is charmingly modest and tactile: The romper-room effects here are hand-crafted with cardboard and cellophane and yarn and plaster, like a grade-school crafts project turned installation-art opus. The resulting mise-en-scène is like Pee-Wee's Playhouse via Salvador Dali. The cinematographic trickery is equally low-tech.

Prior to this highly personal film, Gondry had emerged a major filmmaker via two Charlie Kaufman collaborations (Human Nature and, far better, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and one Dave Chappelle collaboration (Block Party, still one of 2006's best films). But before his rise as a feature filmmaker, Gondry made his name via creative music videos for arty acts such as Björk and the Chemical Brothers. The Science of Sleep, in which Gael García Bernal plays a young man who works out his waking-life problems through a rich dream world, is reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in its romanticism (a little more adolescent this time -- sweet, wild, with undercurrents of melancholy) but is really a nod to this music-video heritage in that visceral and emotional impact takes precedence over storytelling.

Bernal is Stéphane, a young French-Mexican man who has been living in Mexico with his father. As the film opens, he's returned to Paris to see his estranged mother, taking a job she's arranged for him at a printing company that specializes in producing calendars.

Stéphane thinks he's taking a graphic-artist position and hopes to sell the company on his morbid calendar idea, in which each month is accompanied by a drawing depicting a celebrated disaster. Instead, Stéphane ends up performing rote tasks in a colorful but stifling workspace that could double for a French version of The Office. Meanwhile, Stéphane's personal life is also troubled. He doesn't get along with his mother's new husband, and he lives alone in an apartment that was his childhood home, growing obsessed with an equally artsy next-door neighbor, Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

Though Stéphane struggles with real life, he sorts things out in dreams that make up half the film. These dreams branch out from the cardboard-and-crayon set of Stéphane TV, a would-be late-night talk show in which Stéphane -- dressed in a mod suit -- is host, guest, and band all at once. This dreamscape gambit is a conduit for many witty visual eruptions. Stéphane battles his office superior with hands that have grown to comically huge proportions. There's an electric razor that grows hair rather than removing it, giving its user a huge mountain-man beard. One dream sequence has Stéphane in a plushy costume, playing drums and singing a Velvet Underground song.

If The Science of Sleep seems old-fashioned in its effects, it's notable just how old-fashioned. Gondry's movie doesn't merely evoke pre-CGI cinema. It's a seemingly intentional nod to the dawn of filmmaking, to the now seemingly quaint wonderment of such turn-of-the-century films as Georges Méliès' Voyage to the Moon or Edwin Porter's Dream of a Rarebit Fiend.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • Wildlife

      Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are a couple in crisis in Paul Dano’s directorial debut.
    • The Old Man And The Gun

      Robert Redford retires at the top of his game
    • Bohemian Rhapsody

      The Glossy Biopic Can’t Live Up To Freddy Mercury’s Legend

Blogs

We Saw You

Indie Film Fest, Grilled Cheese Fest, Adapt-A-Door and more!

Tiger Blue

Tigers 109, Yale 102 (2 OT)

Tiger Blue

Tigers 28, SMU 18

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies Defeat Kings 112-104

Hungry Memphis

Zopita's on the Square to open Nov. 19

Hungry Memphis

Little Italy Opening Downtown

News Blog

Seven Vie for Vacant District 1 Council Seat

News Blog

Group of White Women Test Mall’s No Hoodie Policy

Hungry Memphis

The Nine Now Open

Fly On The Wall Blog

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Fifty Shades Freed

    Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?
    • Feb 16, 2018
  • Death Grip

    Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
    • Apr 19, 2018
  • The Lost City of Z

    A mesmerizing story of obsession in the Amazon jungle
    • May 1, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation