Friday, September 29, 2006

The Science Of Sleep

I get this feeling, somewhere in the farther reaches of the creative places of my being, that there will be few who watch this film and come away from it utterly captivated by the way that the imagination works with the images that it is given, in order to inform a story that is, quite frankly, fairly impenetrable. Most people are just going to look at this movie and ask themselves if she really liked him or not. Of course, most people would rather vote for their favorite American Idol than their favorite candidate for President, so I guess the bar isn't all that high - at this point, snakes would have a hard time getting under it in a limbo contest.

And that's a shame, because what we have here is a fairly thought-provoking movie about what it means to occupy the same plane in the world as someone else and yet not be able to properly articulate it to the very person with whom you are sharing that plane. Gael García Bernal does a remarkable job as Stéphane, the emotionally stunted anti-hero of the story; and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as Stéphanie (a script quirk that is just a little too cute for such a thoughtful movie, although I suppose even the most serious of artists may be allowed the wayward dalliance), does a splendid job of drawing out this wrinkle in Stépahne's character, with her infectious smile, playful manner, and genuine dismay every time Stéphane's romantic ineptitude raises its ugly head (please pardon a slightly perverse and almost entirely unintentional pun there - it could have been worse...I could have slipped the words "purple" or "swollen" in there).

The source of Stéphane's ineptitude is never revealed; it could be a broken home, a culture clash, a general lack of acceptance by those around him throughout his life - anything and everything. And it doesn't matter either way. The story is not concerned with how Stéphane's problems affect any part of his life other than his ability to tell the girl he has fallen in love with that he has fallen in love with her. By the time you get to the end, you find you have been rooting for him the whole time (and this might be because you have fallen in love with Stéphanie yourself), though you are sure that it will never quite work the way it's supposed to.

It seems as though writer/director/Tambourine Man Michel Gondry knew this was how you were going to feel about it all along, because he crafts an ending that is just ambiguous enough to keep you asking questions, but satisfying enough to qualify as an actual denouement. It closes the big, heavy door that keeps out the weather and the criminals, but it leaves open that little flap at the bottom that lets your pets come and go as they please.

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