Sunday, November 16, 2008

Saturday World Cinema: The Science of Sleep

Click image for Amazon listing
Last night I opined that I wanted to watch a "mindless" movie tonight to get work worries off my mind.... Well, I didn't actually "lie," I just misspoke and ended up changing my mind, ok? And I'm glad I did! The Science of Sleep is far removed from the "mindless" category, and refreshingly so, if I might add! I noticed this film on one of our movie channels a while back and the presence of Gael García Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of legendary French singer Serge) was enough to pique my interest in it. After perusing a few reviews on IMDB, I concluded that it would contain enough of the "weirdness" factor (plus Gael eye candy potential) to merit 105 minutes of my time, so I recorded it on the DVR several months ago. Tonight I finally got around to experiencing its unique charms and intellectual rewards ... I was even able to sell Fernymoss on watching it (I had seen about the first half hour before he came home from work) and soon he was enthusiastically on board with this unique French gem from the same director (Michel Gondry) as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which, I'll confess, I've never seen. I have Jim Carrey issues as yet unresolved.)

I also have to confess I'm a big García Bernal fan ever since I first saw him in the gritty and painfully existential Amores Perros back in 2000. He's since become a rapidly rising star in Latin America and Europe, turning in impressive, chameleon like performances in films as diverse as Y Tu Mamá También, Don't Tempt Me, Motorcycle Diaries (in which he portrayed the legendary Che Guevarra), and my personal favorite, Pedro Almodóvar's, Bad Education. He also received very positive reviews for his work in a film I've yet to see, The King, where he apparently plays a very sinister character modeled on Elvis ... or something like that. (Remember, I haven't seen it yet!) For a young actor of just 30 this year, he's already accumulated an impressive and diverse body of work, which also includes the much ballyhooed Babel, which I have recorded but alas, haven't seen yet. Such is the story of the films waiting on the DVR for their appropriate moment in time....

First and foremost, this film is an inventive meditation on the role of dreams, and how, for certain individuals, they can drive, inform and ultimately cross over into the more mundane "reality" of a life. Stéphane, our protagonist (recently returned to Paris after the death of his father), is a sweetly naïve man-child who arrives to assume a job at a commercial calendar company (procured by his well-meaning mother) where he innocently assumes he'll be designing calendars to exercise his obviously creative talents. Nope. He's just to be the cut and paste guy on generic advertising calendars, not exactly what he had in mind. And given his odd group of co-workers, he sees quickly that this venue is not the place for him to indulge his incredibly rich imagination and talents. Almost immediately, this stultifying crush of "reality" sends him back to his dream world, played out frequently in his Stéphane TV fantasies where he allows himself to roam the past, present and future effortlessly with often comic results.

Suddenly, an attractive new neighbor, Stéphanie (Gainsbourg), enters his life, (via an unfortunate incident involving a piano), and things really get inventive and the surrealistic tendencies we've already seen him display assume a driving force in the developing relationship between the two. From this point on, the flights of fancy take to the foreground of the film, and at times it's difficult to distinguish "reality" from dreams, though the latter are so filled with dream symbology that the viewer eventually catches on and tries to reground herself/himself ... but honestly, when viewing this film, it's best to adopt the old adage of going with the flow, and enjoying this wry, eye popping and clever ride. That's the key pleasure of this film at a surface level, though if one is so inclined, reading further into the dream sequences is an equally rich experience. In short, there's a lot of good stuff to ponder in this filmic treatise on the nature of dreams and their impact on our lives, and how one decides to go with it is a purely personal decision. One could view this as a strange --indeed bizarre-- love story, an exploration of our inner mental workings of the sleeping consciousness or any number of other pathways I've probably not yet contemplated, since I'm putting down first impressions here. Give me a few days to let it all sink in, and I might come back and contradict myself!

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this particular "under the commercial radar" film (apparently it was well received at the 2006 Sundance Festival, which probably led to its US release) and recommend it highly to those inclined to venture off the usual commercial movie path ... with its attractive and engaging principal actors and their convincing performances alone, it's worth a look if you see it pop up at your local video store, Netflix list or satellite movie channels. It's a rewarding and highly entertaining 105 minutes you could have otherwise wasted on something else (Food Network anyone?), though if you choose this, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

NOTE: I've made this review deliberately sketchy because I didn't want to spoil some of the truly "special" moments in the dreams ... to have revealed more than I have would potentially cheat viewers out of some really great "aha!" moments. I'm glad we watched this tonight....


Janet said...

That's been in my que. :)

A nice little gem I found recently was "Son of Rambow".

For the trailer.

Great story of frienship... and great soundtrack, too.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hey Janet,
Smart girl, you, already having it in your queue! Let me know when you've seen it ... I'm betting you'll really like it, and if you're at all a Gael fan, you'll be delighted!

I've heard of that film ... shot on practically zero budget but big on story power? Will check out that link you left, thx!

Annie in Austin said...

Doesn't Charlotte Gainsbourg have an interesting face, IVG? Philo and I caught Science of Sleep while it was still in theaters and enjoyed seeing Gael García Bernal again after first meeting him in Y Tu Mama. You've never seen Eternal Sunshine? How about the sweet Be Kind Rewind or the quirky Human Nature?

Gondry's movies aren't always coherent but they have lovely moments and are so visually rewarding.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Annie,
I somehow suspected you had beat me to this one (you trend setter, you!), but glad to hear you and Philo liked it as well. I'll have to research Gondry some more and maybe try some of those titles.

Have you seen Gael in Bad Education? I hope he does more films with Almodóvar after that one. He also plays a deliciously delightful and sexy Devil in Don't Tempt Me where Penelope Cruz was his bad girl from hell (literally) sent after the soul of hapless boxer... kind of a fluffy film, but lots of fun! I want the red silk jacket he wore in that film, lol.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Oh and Annie,
RE: Charlotte ... she'd have had to have an "interesting" look being the child of singer Serge Gainsbourg (not exactly a looker) and actress Jane Birkin ... of course that marriage didn't last, but it appears to have been wild and weird while it lasted.

If you're not familiar with Gainsbourg, he was the closest thing France ever had to Frank Zappa....