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Blinded by science 

click to enlarge Sound booth to musicians: Soundin beary good, guys. - Really, beary good.
  • Sound booth to musicians: Soundin beary good, guys. Really, beary good.

*The Science of Sleep (R)

Kimball's Twin Peak
At a time when remakes and sequels are dominating the multiplex and the bottom line is, well, a film's bottom line, French writer-director Michel Gondry stands out. The visionary behind Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has a knack for dazzling audiences with wondrous visuals and sheer originality.

His latest effort, The Science of Sleep, is an infectious, whimsical and often magical film that finds Gondry and his talented cast in peak form. In fact, Sleep is everything Eternal Sunshine should have been. Superbly envisioned, passionately written and effortlessly performed, it is a surreal exploration of the human subconscious, and easily one of best movies of the year.

Stephane (Gael Garca Bernal) is a wacky inventor, and a dreamer in nearly every sense of the word. Returning to Paris to live with his mother after the death of his father in Mexico, he has a difficult time distinguishing between his real life and his dream life.

Having been set up with an "artistic" office job, Stephane finds himself working monotonously for a calendar company, where his creativity is forced to lie dormant within the sanctuary of his own mind. That is, until he meets Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a bookish introvert who lives across the hall and yearns to be taken away on the types of adventures that Stephane's imagination can provide.

The narrative of the film is designed to be abstract and disjointed, especially considering that it's largely set in Dreamland but suffice to say, Sleep manages to make its point without beating the bizarro concept over our heads.

Bernal's boyish charm has never been so appealing, and in spite of his awkwardness, he appears to have no problem carrying a film on his shoulders. It helps that Bernal is not yet a household name like Jim Carrey, whose celebrity made it tough to empathize with the protagonist of Eternal Sunshine. Gainsbourg is immensely likable as the perfectly attractive girl next door. Despite Gainsbourg being significantly older than Bernal, their chemistry onscreen is natural, and she's every bit as charismatic as her co-star. Bernal's three co-workers are all hysterical, though Alain Chabat stands out with the showiest supporting role.

The Science of Sleep is a wonderfully eccentric cinematic journey, and its stop-motion sequences are breathtaking. Gondry and his art department do a magnificent job of recreating the indelible trappings of Stephane's mind; for instance, fashioning an entire mini-land complete with automobiles out of rolls of toilet paper.

Visually, there's no other film quite like it, and the images that grace our eyes are like delectable treats to savor. The film is hopelessly and refreshingly romantic, not preoccupied with sex but rather with the inner-workings of the hearts and minds of its characters.

With The Science of Sleep, Gondry continues to turn independent cinema on its head and cast a spell on audiences looking for a quirky, unconventional romance that is never quite as simple as it seems.

Jeff Sneider

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