Friday, September 22nd, 2006
Parallel Synchronized Randomness
I will warn you right off that there are probably some plot spoilers to follow, so if you don’t want to hear anything about Michel Gondry’s The Science Of Sleep, skip down a few paragraphs.
At first glance, The Science Of Sleep would look to be a fantastical, technicolour love story with a whimsical, child-like protagonist who connects with and wins the heart of his shy, withdrawn neighbour. And they all live happily ever after. You might be think that this film sounds like the natural companion to another romantically surreal French film that charmed and delighted filmgoers a few years back, but you’d be wrong, so very wrong. Instead, it’s far more like the anti-Amelie.
Gael Garcia Bernal (who gets better in every film I see him in) is Stephane, an illustrator who returns to Paris after the death of his father to work in a calendar company. He leads an active dream life which he finds more engrossing than his waking life and as such, has difficulty distinguishing where one begins and the other ends. When Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg, who I found inexplicably mesmerizing) moves in across the hall, he becomes convinced that they are connected in a deep, subconscious level and tries to win her affections. Unfortunately, the flipside of his childlike nature is the inability to maturely handle his emotions or relate to Stephanie obvious emotional unavailability. Hilarity does not ensue.
Stephane’s – and by extension Gondry’s – fantasy world is wonderful to behold, all stop-animated cardboard cities, cellophane waterfalls and mechanical ponies. If the film was all about exploring the extents of his imagination, then it would probably be a beautiful but narratively slight experience. But instead, Gondry seems far more fascinated with the frailties of the human heart and for all the sumptuous visuals, it was this angle that has stuck with me much longer. Though the protagonist, Stephane is not especially sympathetic though he is rather pitiable. He is willingly and deliberately out of touch with reality and again like a child, is also very capable of being selfish, petulant and cruel. You almost want to chalk his behaviour up to a mental illness, but that’s an excuse I’m not willing to extend – he seems perfectly lucid and cognizant of reality, he simply chooses not to participate. Far more sympathetic are those around him who obviously care for him but also have to deal with his trying behaviour.
Call me a cynic or pessimist, but I rather liked that there was no happy ending here (at least not in the waking world) and that the overall tone was quite sad. I find it rare that a film can strike that particular chord in me without being melodramatic or emotionally manipulative. Some would find it a shame that a film would wrap such delicious (eye) candy around such a bittersweet centre – hence the somewhat ambivalent reviews at Rotten Tomatos and Metacritic – but I prefer to think of it as a storybook creation with a real, human heart (and guts and all the messy stuff).
But with all that said, I would still love to live in one of Gondry’s films. Happily ever after is for suckers.
The New York Times has an enormous profile on Michel Gondry, who is fast becoming one of my very favourite filmmakers.
Trailer: The Science Of Sleep
Check out this Myspace video interview between Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and actor Fred Armisen. They play mad libs. Wilco have been hard at work in the studio and hope to have the new record finished in time for a Spring ’07 release. In the meantime, check out the first in a series of podcasts, this one curated by Glenn Kotche – the same Glenn Kotche who fears his alma mater.
Zoilus brings word of some interesting events going on at the Toronto Public Library this Fall. On November 4 it’s a Blocks recording club party at the North York Central Library (which is up here if you were wondering), featuring the likes of Final Fantasy and The Creeping Nobodies, amongst others. Somewhat closer to (my) home, you’ve got Great Lake Swimmers and Elliott Brood heading up the lineup at the Toronto Reference Library on November 18. Your library fines at work.