Friday, March 23, 2007

"THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP"

Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg

"Close your eyes. Open your heart."




I remember distinctly this film was the opening movie at last year's Cinemanila. But as luck would have it, my schedule didn't permit me to catch it. Besides it was shown at around 8:30pm at SM Mall of Asia, of all places. It probably started by nine something if I know how things go here. No I'm not sour graphing because on hindsight, I believe it is a movie more appreciated when seen in the comforts of one's home. A handy remote control to pause and rewind at your free will. Because if you thought that "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was confusing with all those erasure of memories, trying to figure out if Joel erased all memory of Clementine first or vice versa, then you got something more bizarre for lack of a better word coming your way with "La Science des Reves".

The correct translation is "The Science of Dreams" but for some reason, they changed it to "The Science of Sleep" for its international release. Directed by Michel Gondry, who also manned "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", he is French and noted for directing avant garde music videos for artists like Beck, The Foo Fighters, Radiohead among others. But whereas "Eternal" had the witty Charlie Kaufmann to thank for co-writing that surreal story, "The Science of Sleep" is the first solo venture of Gondry and unfortunately it hasn't fared as well as expected.


Ok here's the gist of the storyline. Stephane's (Gael Garcia Bernal) parents are divorced. He was born to a Mexican father and a French mother and he returns to France upon the death of his father to start a new job. Stephane moves into his mother's apartment (his mother lives with someone else) and meets Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) his next door neighbor, a somewhat eccentric yet creative type. Stephane is a visual/graphic artist who likes to paint/sketch with a very fertile and rather twisted imagination. He has this habit of daydreaming about his life as it unfolds. There is a very thin line between his reality and his dream world. It actually gets to the point wherein Stephane is unable to distinguish one from the other. But he isn't retarded nor is he mentally challenged, let's just say he is a daydreamer. This is his story.


The first part of the film conveys clear and set boundaries. You can tell which scenes are part of his dreams and which shots are his reality. When cardboard figurines or inanimate objects float or fly by - well obviously that is his dreamworld. The background takes the form of a little TV studio set where he annotates on snippets in his life. A very MTV video type of scenery abound with a myriad of psychedelic colors bursting in several scenes with accompanying new age music. While, his very boring real life involves a dead end job at a calendar printing company where he feels his creative energy isn't maximized to its full potential. It also centers around Stephanie, his next door neighbor with whom he feels a close connection since she is also an artist who is crafty and quite imaginative herself. It's like they are on this same surreal level, creativity wise. His reality are depicted through shots of an arrondisement (neighborhood) somewhere in Paris and his very mundane office settings.


But as the plot progresses Stephane seems to get lost more and more in his fantasy like world vis a vis his reality. At this point, it would be justifiable for you to pause the film several times to assess if the scenario presented is really happening or if they are part of his dreams. It turns into some mambo jumbo melee of confusion both for Stephane and unfortunately the viewer too. Filmed in several languages where the characters speak in French, English and a bit of Spanish, I would say it is fairly easy to wrap one's head around what is unfolding on screen. By that I mean if you just take it at face value and not get into an analytical mode by dissecting what each of his dreams signify. You know sometimes how in your waking moments as you go along your daily chores in some routinely manner, you tend to manifest certain activities in your dreams later that night. Then the next day you recall your dream and/or nightmare and say oh that's because I watched a horror movie before sleeping or I received an e-card from that person that's why I dreamt about him. Well normally a sensible and rational person can tell the difference and know how to control these subconscious moments from ruining our daily existence. Stephane though chooses to make his dreams a mechanism for him to escape into a fantasy land each time certain things in his life don't go as planned in his dreams. He seems to thrive in that notion that somehow if he really wished for it hard enough in his dreams, his fantasies would turn into reality. More so than his boring life being the pits, he is also stuck in a job he loathes where his creativity is curtailed. This film is also about Stephane's sad love story. Because deep inside, the way I see it - it is all a matter for Stephane to express his true feelings of affection for Stephanie. But she is a bit indifferent and won't really reciprocate his feelings for her. After a while, it gets a bit tedious that he suddenly turns into this obsessive self absorbed type of guy who won't stop dropping hints laced with sexual overtones towards Stephanie. Clearly she isn't interested and I understand why. The guy is a bit off not in an insane way but just off in some moments of fantasy. I don't know for some reason, it never crossed my mind that Stephane might be crazy as in mentally challenged. Alright I will stop rambling on and on. There are several interpretations to Stephane's character pattern behaviour. All of them valid in its own way.


The actors give credible performances in their subdued no hysterics manner of acting. Gael Garcia Bernal has always had a steady stream of roles where he has proven time and again that he knows how to project on screen. His booming voice, with or without accent he can deliver his lines with a crisp clarity. A natural fiery Latino actor (Mexican) who would of course get typecast with the standard Latin immigrant role (i.e Babel) but at least Hollywood is giving him the proper exposure and publicity he deserves.

The other main character, Stephanie is portrayed by Charlotte Gainsbourg. She is a bit dull to watch, sometimes drones on like a bee but hey I guess the role merits her behavior. Besides she is the offspring of two great French artistes. Jane Birkin, a waifish British/French actress and THE Serge Gainsbourg himself. Now if you don't know who Serge Gainsbourg is ... well I suggest you Google the guy. I'm sure there will be endless websites in his honor. Personally, I remember him as this ageless singer who sings with a slur has a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other crooning depressing French love songs and ballads.


Alright I will get to the part where I either recommend the film or not. Well let me put it this way, you need a fair amount of patience and a strong threshold to endure this type of surrealistic, dreamy sequence film making technique. it is different, eccentric and a bit bizarre but overall tolerable enough to watch. I couldn't help but hear this song (Reality) by Richard Sanderson in my head:


Dreams are my reality
A wondrous world where I like to be
Illusion are a common thing
I try to live in dream
Although it's only fantasy

Dreams are my reality
I like to dream of you close to me
I dream of loving in the night
And loving you seems right
Perhaps that's my reality

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