Embodying this purposeful tangle is the pic's star, Gael Garcia Bernal, who radiates the same boyish irresistibility previously seen in his depiction of pre-Revolution Che Guevara in 2004's "The Motorcycle Diaries." Bernal's Stephane is a wildly inventive but awkward young artist who has come back to his native Paris from a long sojourn in Mexico at the request of his mother (Miou-Miou). Returning on the promise of a creative job with a calendar manufacturer, he is extremely disappointed to discover that the position is nothing more than monotonous typesetting. A colorful group of colleagues that includes Martine (Aurelia Petit), Serge (Sacha Bourdo) and the frisky Guy (Alain Chabat) serve as his distractions in an otherwise mundane existence.
Outside of work, Stephane's interest turns to his new neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Although initially attracted to her best friend Zoe (Emma de Caunes), he quickly realizes his deeper connection with the more introverted and inventive Stephanie. Stephane's disposition and childlike nature, however, make it difficult to pursue his heart's desire by conventional means. Instead, he expresses his feelings by sharing his boundless imagination with her. Described by his mom as always inverting dreams and reality, Stephane extends this sense of the illusory to Stephanie through such acts as jointly creating a miniature world from cotton balls and cellophane candy wrappers and mechanically manipulating a favorite old toy horse to gallop.
Though filmic traces of Gondry's work in the Charlie Kaufman-scripted "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" can be sensed in the Gallic director's latest effort, "The Science of Sleep" stands on its own as a highly individualistic and seemingly personal creation. Animated segments and fantastical studio sets representing Stephane's mind in the throes of R.E.M. intercut the live-action "real" world scenes to extend the film's sense of dreaminess, while the bright performances of Bernal and Gainsbourg respectfully emphasize its whimsical and inquisitive tone.
At worst, the film could be accused of preciousness or taking a fetishistic approach to what might be interpreted as the protagonist's immaturity. To accept these critiques, however, means refusing to lose oneself in the reality of Gondry's unreality. And it is the unconscious immersion into that very flight of fancy that forms the real pleasure of "The Science of Sleep." Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou, Emma de Caunes, Aurelia Petit, Sacha Bourdo and Stephane Metzger. Directed and written by Michel Gondry. Produced by Georges Bermann, Michel Gondry and Frederic Junqua. A Warner Independent release. Fantasy/Comedy. Rated R for language, some sexual content and nudity. Running time: 105 min