Dream sequence

Director Michel Gondry makes sleep exciting

IN DEEP<br> Gael García Bernal tries to get to the bottom of his relationship in <i>The Science of Sleep</i>.

Gael García Bernal tries to get to the bottom of his relationship in The Science of Sleep.

The Science of Sleep Starring Gael García Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Directed by Michel Gondry.
Rated 4.0

The Science of Sleep is not easy to sum up, let alone categorize. And that, as it happens, has a lot to do with its special and peculiar kinds of appeal.

You could say that it’s a spacey sort of romantic comedy, and that might help—but only if you also understand that in this case “spacey” connotes wackily inventive dream visions, including dreams about dreaming.

The romance and the comedy are evident in a variety of ways, including a half-familiar (and amusingly scrambled) tale of young love and thwarted longing. And key parts of that giddy scrambling benefit considerably from the stellar presences and enchantingly offbeat performances of Gael García Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg, the two smart and attractive international stars playing the central roles of Stéphane and Stéphanie.

A large part of the love story is told through the zany, eccentric dream visions of Stéphane, and director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind) invests much of the film’s creative energy in funky-surreal actualizations of those flaky fantasies. Those visions are ultimately the main story, as shared and overlapping dreams spark the romance and, perhaps, also end up hindering it.

Stépahanie’s feisty friend Zoé (Emma de Caunes) and Stéphane’s wittily rambunctious colleagues in the calendar-art business (Aurélia Petit, Sacha Bourdo, and especially the charmingly abrasive Alain Chabat) add agreeably to the comic-romantic dynamics, and Bernal and Gainsbourg are suitably mercurial in the movie’s increasingly bittersweet scheme of things.

But perhaps the biggest pay-off comes from Gondry’s playfully whimsical fantasy visions. Cardboard fantasies and electronic phantasms share screen time and image space in his giddy, extravagantly flimsy mise en scene, with results that are almost always tenderly amusing and, sometimes, heartbreaking.