To a daydream believer

Michel Gondry follows ‘Eternal Sunshine’ with his latest, ‘The Science of Sleep’

by Michael Garberich

When you have two children, you have one favorite. It’s a pity, but the question remains: Do you prefer the more intelligent, adventurous, humorous one with an abundance of style and beauty, or, well, the other one?

For director Michel Gondry, that other one ought to be 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

His newborn, “The Science of Sleep,” ousts its older sibling, combining “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” and Freud without the creepier aspects of either.

When Stéphane’s (Gael Garcia Bernal) mother secures him a job, he leaves Mexico for Paris and moves into the apartment she owns. Although the job is a disappointment, the move becomes worthwhile when, at the urgings of Stéphane’s co-worker Guy (a relentlessly hilarious Alain Chabat), he meets his love interest to be, Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

“Sleep” opens with Stéphane mixing a “recipe” for dreams on “Stéphane TV,” a crude, DIY studio situated within his slumbering unconscious. Here, cardboard video cameras and paper teleprompters reconstruct his thoughts and harbor his wishes. Unprepared and unwilling to confront his days’ stresses and demands, he retreats into the haven of his imagination.

Stéphane’s dreams increasingly permeate reality as he struggles for creative autonomy at work and Stéphanie’s unrequited love. A letter written while asleep inconveniently appears at its (un)intended’s doorstep and an imagined ski trip literally results in cold feet.

Both films explore the (take a deep breath) unconscious mind’s subjectivity and its relation to reality – “Sunshine” working with memory and “Sleep” with dreams. However, “Sleep’s” colorful playfulness dulls “Sunshine’s” angst-ridden meditation on memory.

Whereas “Sunshine’s” overstuffed cast offered memorable, unsuspected performances (an offbeat Kate Winslet meets a socially inept Jim Carrey), “Sleep” serves film’s hottest international dish, Gael García Bernal, in yet another piquant flavoring, showing Johnny Depp-like versatility.

Gondry’s creative charm flourishes in Stéphane’s dreams, which play out in stop-motion animations that reflect the film’s childlike imagination.

When the love that was so tirelessly pursued is finally confronted, it is addressed with a flurry of cathartic, tragi-comic dialogue, tinged with all the ambivalence and ambiguity that young love can offer.

It’s “Sleep’s” overtly jocular tone and inventiveness that display that promise so hotly anticipated in precocious youngsters. And despite every urging to treat each child with equal care and attention, you can’t help but give “Sleep” an extra, unconscious second goodnight hug before wishing it sweet dreams.