What’s love got to do with it? For Michel Gondry, flying solo (without the aid of scripter Charlie Kaufman) in his third feature, human emotions play second banana to trippy set pieces and candy-colored visions. Those who felt that Gondry’s absurdly overpraised Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind bore no resemblance whatsoever to their experience of relationships will find that The Science of Sleep at least tries to honor the logic of dreams (the original French title translates as “The Science of Dreams”). But is Gondry’s film oneiric, or merely onanistic?
Fortunately, the beautiful dreamers in SOS help salve the silliness. Tiny, twitchy Stphane (Gael Garca Bernal) and jolie-laide Stphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) bond over crafts (cellophane strips, cloth ponies), even though Stphane initially has the hots for Stphanie’s pixieish pal. Gainsbourg is particularly heartbreaking here (viewers may find themselves crushing out on her just by listening to the way her tongue glides from French to English), at once tentatively inviting Stphane’s affections and wearily standing up to his passive-aggressive attacks. Their awkward flirtation unfolds in both reality and Stphane’s own REM sleep, but soon there’s simply no way out for Gondry’s narrative, which ultimately becomes a pileup of twee scenes: Stphane playing the drums on his illusory TV show, or driving off in a corrugated-cardboard car. These aren’t grand statements about human connection, but merely plasticine sentiments, fabricated by a director whose development seems arrested. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Melissa Anderson