To describe “The Science of Sleep” would be a loopy exercise. The film is inventive as hell, imaginative as if there is no tomorrow, and loopiest of all loopy films. It’s like you write a nice little love story on a pack of playing cards, and give each card to a sleep-deprived, hyper-creative art student to doodle on, and assemble the cards back in order.
Each individual scene in the movie makes wild detours, is punctuated with dreamy interludes that frequently puncture the fabric of reality, leading to a constant state of intoxicated delirium. You are never sure where the film lands you – are you in a dreamscape or are you in reality? Sometime this could lead to total chaos, but the movie somehow finds a way to tell the story and find coherence between all this artistic mayhem.
Stephane (played by Gael Garcia Bernal, “Motorcycle Diaries”) visits his widowed mother in Paris. He moves into one of the apartments his mother rents out. A budding graphic artist, he is tricked by his mother into accepting a dead end rote job. His co-workers are an interesting bunch of modern age dinosaurs- people who have accepted their place (as modest as it might be) in society, and go through life with a sense of resigned discontent.
Stephane deals with the disappointments in his life by taking refuge in his spectacular imagination. When reality becomes unbearable, he slips into his fictitious world, and revels in the endlessly interesting possibilities that reality doesn’t afford him. Imagination is his last defense against insanity. Stephane finds a soul mate in his new neighbor Stephanie, who is slightly odd, interesting, and is also taken to creative pursuits. Their meet-cute encounters are like brainstorming sessions between the lead animators in Pixar Studios. They feed off each others creativity and oddity, and in no time they are inescapably drawn to each other. And, as in any romantic story worth its salt, complications ensue (the question is whether are these real or are they also parts of Stephane’s figment.)
Gael Garcia Bernal wields his considerable talents with apparent ease to create a fully realized character. Even at times when the movie is a jumble, the individual moments between the characters and the inventiveness of the makers hold it together. This is a sheer achievement in the craft of making films. The director, Michel Gondry, the maker of the wonderful “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, exercises enormous control over the medium and executes this jumble of a movie with great finesse.