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Dream job

Michel Gondry is skilled in the science of film
By BRETT MICHEL  |  September 22, 2006
3.5 3.5 Stars

IMPOSSIBLY PRECIOUS: As would-be lovers, Bernal and Gainsbourg are timeless.

In a recurring scene in Michel Gondry’s La science des rêves, Stéphane (Gael García Bernal), who’s clad in a tight-fitting lavender suit, frantically runs around his “television studio,” its walls constructed from egg cartons, its cameras from cardboard. Simultaneously the producer, director, musician, and host of the solipsistic Stéphane TV and its logic-defying recipe of “PSR” (parallel synchronized randomness), he’s everyone and everywhere at once, an impossibility of dreamlike logic. Stéphane is in complete control — and, of course, he’s completely asleep, immersed in the studio of his mind. “Since he was six, he’s inverted dreams and reality,” his French mother (Miou-Miou) wistfully explains.

Stéphane’s “reality” affords him none of the controlling freedom of his dreams. He’s been idling as an artist in Mexico (his Mexican father has recently succumbed to cancer), but when his depressed mother requests that he move in with her at his Parisian childhood home, he’s helpless to say no. And she’s found him employment as a designer for a calendar manufacturer, an exciting prospect, since his portfolio includes a series of calendar-ready illustrations. Sure, these childlike paintings portray unimaginably horrific disasters, but staring at such images on your wall as you drink your morning coffee is no different from looking at your daily newspaper or the cable news.

This dream job turns out to be a nightmare more horrifying than anything Stéphane could paint, a monotonous basement position setting type for a boss with no need for artists. But his home life improves with the arrival of a new neighbor, a like-minded artist who mirrors his creative passions. A tentative romance forms between the painfully shy Stéphane and the grounding presence of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Stéphanie.

After Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry could have directed anything he wanted — and with Dave Chappelle’s Block Party I suppose he did just that. But now he’s followed up that head-tripping triumph with the first Charlie Kaufman picture made without the involvement of Charlie Kaufman. He’s produced something that’s not cute so much as impossibly precious, and far more personal. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet shared a romance for our times (these days, who wants to look to the future?), but the would-be lovers of Bernal and Gainsbourg remain timeless.

As Stéphane’s emotions begin to spiral out of control, so do his dreams, and the film runs the risk of doing the same. Unkempt pastiches of narrative transgressions threaten collapse, but Gondry wills his balancing act to work. And when Stéphane’s dreams increasingly encroach on his reality, Gondry’s film becomes increasingly — and literally — animated. The filmed visuals (’70s-flavored in the best possible sense) fuse themselves to the movie’s stop-motion dreamscapes (overseen by Gondry himself) and spellbinding music, all held together as if by Scotch tape, creating a one-of-a-kind original.

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