In many ways, this is Michel Gondry‘s first film. Technically, it’s his fourth feature, but two of his previous directorial efforts were very much screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s movies (even though Gondry’s contribution was hardly negligible) and “Block Party” was mostly driven by the personalities of Dave Chappelle and his hip hop buddies. Now with “La science des rêves”, we have a picture that’s thoroughly plugged into Gondry’s mind, consciously, unconsciously and subconsciously!
On a superficial level, this is apparent in how the renowned music video director revisits his favorite techniques and motifs, be it the giant hands and the general goofiness of the Foo Fighters’s Everlong, the stop-motion animated stuffed animals of Björk’s Human Behavior, the shifting realities of Beck’s Deadweight, the warped perspective of The White Stripes’ The Denial Twist… The bulk of the film deals with how protagonist Stéphane Miroux (Gael Garcia Bernal) struggles with distinguishing his waking life from his reveries, which spring out of a cardboard studio inside his brain where he’s both the host and the house band of “Stéphane TV”, a show that features a cooking segment where his random thoughts, reminiscences, songs he heard and whatever else is bumping around the old noggin are mixed and mashed into the strange brew that is his dream world.
Ok, I guess this sounds pretty Kaufmanesque, but Gondry’s very personal mind trip is more artsy, more intellectual, more… French. And it’s not just that story takes place in Paris and the presence of some of France’s most famous actors (Alain Chabat, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Miou-Miou) in the cast. It’s an European sensibility that goes back to the early days of cinema with the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès, for whom cinema was a new and magical invention, the ultimate toolbox for an artist to share his imagination with the world.
We also feel that Gondry is quite nakedly exposing himself through his lead character, “a great artist with a foreign accent” whom others try to fit into a box, working at a boring job, following a schedule, etc. But Stéphane would much rather be an illustrator or an inventor (gotta love his one-second time machine!). He is, as I suppose Gondry is, a big kid in a man’s body. When he meets Stéphanie (Gainsbourg), he can’t help but play silly games with her, pretending they’re not next-door neighbors, making her a mechanical pony, communicating with her while he’s asleep…
At the same time, the relationship is not at all idealized, love is a messy thing and Stéphane’s immaturity has consequences. He loves that Stéphanie “makes things with her hands”, like him, but she starts changing the moment he becomes attracted to her. Plus she seems to be the kind of girl who doesn’t want to get hurt so she hurts others, which is not a good combination with Stéphane’s rejection complex! It’s quite surreal how the film goes both for the illusion of meeting the girl of your dreams and the harsh reality that it never really works out in reality, no matter how you distort it in your head.
As you can probably tell, “La science des rêves” is kind of all over the place and self-indulgent, but that’s what’s so great about it. When’s the last time you saw a movie that was truly unpredictable? I love that it can discuss things like Parallel Synchronized Randomness one minute, then go for sex jokes the next (“I like your boobs, they’re really friendly and unpretentious). I love how casually the dialogue goes from French to English to Spanish. Of course, I love the colorful, madcap visuals, with seas of cellophane, cardboard buildings, wooly clouds, plush animals, objects that come to life… Gondry magic all the way!