“I’m collecting beautiful things. A shoe. A handbag. A telephone.”
My friend’s boyfriend made her a duck for her birthday a couple of years ago. It’s made out of brown strips of cloth and has mismatched button eyes that stare at you. It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen, but she loves it.
The romantically-inspired inventiveness of The Science of Sleep touches me in the same way. It is a love story constructed of the confused consciousness of Stéphane (the supremely hot Gael Garcia Bernal) and embellished with stop-motion animation.
Stéphane moves from Mexico to a Paris apartment where his mother is the landlady. His room is exactly the same as when he was a small boy. He has even rigged up a system to switch off his light at night (think Mechanical Harry). His new job involves pasting little bits of paper to tacky calendars, but he has designed his own calendar called ‘Disastrology’, featuring colourful illustrations of world disasters, such as a plane bursting into flames mid-air, spewing mangled passengers into the sky. Yes, the film is funny too.
Stéphane’s dreams and reality mingle together, complicating his relationship with his new neighbour Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Yet, as their names suggest, they understand one another. He loves her because she “makes things with her hands” and she appreciates the unconventional gifts he gives her, such as a one-second time machine (“they [the seconds] all add up”).
Director Michel Gondry applies the same techniques and creativity we see in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – and the award-winning music video ‘Walkie Talkie Man’ – to his portrayal of Stéphane’s dreams. The limbo between Stéphane’s dreaming and consciousness is a television studio completely made of cardboard, with egg cartons lining the walls. His dreams are cooked Jamie Oliver style, in a pot: “tonight I’ll show you how dreams are prepared, love, friendships, relationships. All those ships.” Gondry used to make personalised presents (or “creepy pathological gifts”, as he describes them) for his girlfriends.
The Science of Sleep is his present to us, lovingly made yet slightly alarming. Go see it.