The Science of Sleep Michel Gondry

Yet another film about a nearly insane Mexican lured to Paris by his distant mother on the promise of a job illustrating calendars. True to the genre, the Mexican (Gael García Bernal, in this case) has an escalating existential crisis that involves jury-rigged time machines, cardboard video cameras and a difficulty distinguishing his vivid dream life from reality.

What prevents Michel Gondry’s (The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) entry from becoming a simple rehash of generic conventions, however, is Bernal’s nuanced performance as the nearly insane Mexican. His angst-ridden romance with the woman he pretends not to live next door to (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a persuasive discourse on the universal complexities of love — he doesn’t know he’s in love with her. And if the plot occasionally drifts towards an absurd periphery, Gondry’s script provides clarity by allowing characters to oscillate between French, English and Spanish dialogue.

As visually inventive as it is emotionally sincere, The Science of Sleep picks up where Terry Gilliam’s (Time Bandits) surreal fairytales left off more than 20 years ago. But where Gilliam’s overdressed, studio-bound set pieces and midget-strewn plotlines seem claustrophobic and increasingly dated, Gondry’s mix of stop-motion animation and live action comes off as buoyant and giddy.

No other major mainstream western director is making feature films with this much visual invention and vitality. We endure the soaring conceptual indulgences because they are executed flawlessly and because they are anchored in characters that are easy to love. (Warner Independent)