Director Michel Gondry is so predictably unpredictable. After making a pair of this young century's more original movies with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (2001's bizarre Human Nature and 2004's arguably flawless Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Gondry chose to stifle his inventive whimsy in the service of comedian Dave Chappelle to film his rousing Block Party. But Gondry returns to mindbending territory with The Science of Sleep, working for the first time from his own script and unleashing his every romantic and heartbreaking impulse with eye-popping abandon.
The Science of Sleep unravels in English, French, and Spanish (with subtitles, of course) as Stéphane (Gael Garcia Bernal from The Motorcycle Diaries, having oodles of fun) returns to Paris from Mexico... well, actually, the film opens with StéphaneTV, the talk show Stéphane hosts while he's asleep. Stéphane has an extremely active subconscious, so much so that the quiet artist often confuses it with his waking life. He takes a job assembling calendars with the zaniest co-workers this side of yours, and then he meets Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg, 21 Grams).
I guess it might be more accurate to say that Stéphane meets Zoe, Stéphanie's more obviously pretty friend. But you totally know, even without the name thingy, that Stéphane and Stéphanie are meant for each other, and not just from the way that they can suspend cotton clouds with the correct piano notes and their mutual adoration of Golden the Pony Boy. The only person who may not realize their rightness is Stéphanie, who sees Stéphane as immature (true) and slightly deluded (also true). Plus he keeps asking for Zoe's phone number during the REM stage.
Honestly, the plot is secondary, an excuse for Gondry to fashion the most gorgeous movie you're likely to see until he makes another. The Science of Sleep is stuffed with more beauty than I could possibly describe, such as the obvious art of the crudely elegant stop-motion animation and the handmade gew-gaws lining Stéphanie's flat, as well as tiny touches like Stéphane's omnipresent hat and the playful cardboard cameras capturingStéphaneTV. But for all its whimsy, Gondry's script is surprisingly realistic, making no attempt to hide the fact that Stéphane acts at times like a petulant child and acknowledging that love doesn't actually drop in your lap and isn't in the first place you look either.
Come to think of it, The Science of Sleep is a lot like love: vivid, sad, joyful, cluttered, and best of all, fiercely passionate. And as in Eternal Sunshine, Gondry nails the landing. Not every filmmaker has the stones to try it, but the best denouements offer no easy answers and no clear resolution, only a jumping-off point for your imagination to wander. As I said, a lot like love.
We've all seen Raiders of the Lost Ark... what? Please don't tell me you haven't. Go rent it. I'll still be here when you get back.
Not bad, huh? Steven Spielberg was inspired to make his 1981 classic by the adventure serials of his youth, and he, in turn, motivated a trio of Mississippians to film their own shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the --- "Big deal," you say. "Gus Van Sant did the same thing with Psycho and it sucked."
First of all, don't interrupt. Secondly, the aforementioned friends --- Chris Strompolos, Jayson Lamb, and Eric Zala --- were 10 and 11 years old when they began their odyssey in 1982, finally completing filming of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation in 1989. Kids finishing anything is pretty astonishing, but all 602 scenes are there, from the rolling boulder to the Nazi face-melting to the Marion-kissing.
Granted, Indiana Jones' voice didn't change during the Spielberg version, and Indy had a monkey instead of a puppy, but if you've ever sat in front of a flickering movie screen and fantasized about making your own epic, get down to the Dryden on Saturday, September 30. Strompolos, Lamb, and Zala will all be in attendance to present their homage to Spielberg's love letter and answer what will undoubtedly be an avalanche of questions about how the hell they actually pulled this off.
The Science of Sleep (R), directed by Michel Gondry, opens Friday, September 29, at the Little Theatres and Pittsford Cinemas | Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, featuring visiting guest artists Chris Strompolos, Jayson Lamb, and Eric Zala, screens Saturday, September 30, at the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre, 8 p.m.