When a friend who had failed to watch the film with me asked me how it was, I said, "Crazy kooky mad fantastic." To say that Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep is odd would be an understatement. It makes his earlier film Human Nature look positively mundane. The similarities worried me at the beginning, since I did not really like Human Nature when I saw it. But The Science of Sleep is an altogether different creature, an insane entity that lives and breathes and delights more than it offends with its disregard for convention. The style, using animatronics characteristic of the music video of Björk's "Human Behaviour" (incidentally, directed by Gondry as well) and quirky imagery, are perfect to convey the lead character Stéphane's (Gael Garcia Bernal) confusion of dreams with reality. It's part of the sheer fun of the film (of which it has loads) that the viewers themselves sometimes cannot tell which parts are in Stéphane waking reality and which are in his dreamscape. Are the clouds really floating up the ceiling? Is the one-second time machine really working?
Gael Garcia Bernal is very effectively endearing, showing vulnerability and sensitivity, complementing his child-like tendencies to retreat into his dreams, yet counterpoint to his sometimes vulgar quirkiness. He can be frustrating in his naivette, but Stéphane is also a character that you'll root for and feel a lot of sympathy (at times pity) for. Charlotte Gainsbourg's Stéphanie is an ideal muse to Stéphane, strong-willed yet also open to Stéphane's quirks and confused and hurt by his unpredictable moods. Gainsbourg is not the standard beauty of mainstream cinema (and this is intended in the story), but she has a strong charisma that matches Bernal's own. Among the supporting actors, Alain Chabat as Guy is comically a standout.
If you aren't into odd, quirky films, this film will probably turn you off within a few minutes of its screen time. But you'd be missing the opportunity to see a real jewel of a film: funny, touching, endearing, inspiring. Grade: A