Life seems to be looking up for shy and withdrawn Stephane (Gael García Bernal) when he is coaxed to return to his childhood home in France by his mother with the promise of a job. Wildly creative, his fanciful and sometimes disturbing dream life constantly threatens to usurp his waking world. But his joy is muted when he discovers that the job is actually a mundane copy setting position in a tiny office with three co-workers, including one (Alain Chabat) hungry for someone to entertain him and a boss who would prefer to be perpetually left alone.
However, that disappointment is overshadowed when Stephane meets his new next door neighbor, Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her friend, Zoe. Initially mistaken for an injured furniture mover upon first meeting the two young women, and too shy to correct them, Stephane then must pretend that he doesn’t actually live next door in order to continue the growing friendship with Stephanie.
Stephane is not nearly as adept at lying as he is at creating and the girls soon learn the truth. Initially attracted to Zoe, he is quickly drawn to Stephanie as her imagination easily matches his own. He enlists and engages her in his various creative projects and inventions and joyfully begins to let her into the confused but colorful world of his mind. And almost inexplicably charmed by him, Stephanie somehow finds the key to the heart of Stephane’s fragile artist. As their relationship blossoms, the confidence he exudes in his fanciful dream life begins bleeding over to his real life as it never had before with Stephane finding success, dispatching villains and looking toward a happy, magical future with Stephanie.
However, just as he finds popularity with the successful publishing of a calendar featuring his illustrations, he becomes distraught over the perceived rejection of his feelings by Stephanie. But did she really reject him ? Or through his insecurities, did he simply imagine the scenario which has left him romantically adrift yet again? Unable to bear the prospect of a waking world without Stephanie’s love and with no satisfying solutions coming out of his dream world, Stephane faces a dilemma he may not be able to depend on the science of sleep to help him solve.
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR MICHEL GONDRY
What was the inspiration behind “The Science of Sleep”?
It all started years ago from an idea I used in a video for the Foo Fighters, about two young people sharing dreams - wanting to see how they would interact with each other’s dreams. I incorporated this idea into a story of how dreams would affect a relationship between two people and how the relationship would in turn affect their dreams.
How did Gael García Bernal come to the project?
We met through a friend. He seemed to have the general qualities that I was looking for. The character of Stephane is something of an alter ego... Initially, I was worried because Gael is such a handsome, entertaining guy, I thought, “Okay, people will think this is how I see myself.” But, he is a very, very good actor so we were able to overcome this problem.
Let’s talk about the actors. What was that experience like, directing this cast? Gael? Charlotte Gainsbourg? Alain Chabat?
It was great. Gael would come in with a lot of suggestions and ideas and he was really funny. Charlotte would just act in the most trustful way, I got everything I asked of her. It was amazing. Part of the job is to adapt to each personality and get the best of each person. What was great is that we didn’t have much time to rehearse, the shoot was intense, the chemistry developed very quickly.
What was the film shot on? How long was principal photography?
We shot on 35mm and we had just over seven weeks. The animation in the dream sequences was done over two and a half really intense months in my country house at Villemagne, in the mountains. This was about six months before we shot the film.
The effects in the film have a magical, fanciful “cut and paste” or “arts and crafts” quality to them. Were they primarily done in camera or digitally?
They were done in camera, frame by frame. When the day was over with the actors, we would bring over an animation camera to shoot the moving objects with the same light. It may not seem totally efficient in terms of production but you need this sort of commitment to achieve this “craft” quality. We were the first ones to shoot with this new stock from Fuji. They called it Eterna and I suspect they were referring to my last picture although I don’t want to sound arrogant.
Why was it important to have the story set in Paris?
We actually shot in the very building where I used to live in a flat with my son and his mother. In fact, they are still living there two floors above. It was important to set it there because this was the last time I had a job that was not connected to films. At the time, I was working as this calendar design artist. Also I did not want to spend time learning about what it is to live in New York, or someplace else and I wanted to go straight to the love story between these two people.
How did your experience making “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or your past music videos influence making “The Science of Sleep”?
I always shoot projects where the outcome is uncertain. I need this element of surprise, to keep my interest up. I think I got that from doing animation: you shoot one image at a time and you don’t know how it is going to look until you receive the film from the lab. It’s like experimenting. I always try to put myself in a place where I have not been before. So I explore a lot of techniques and ways to communicate with the actors and to tell a story. With this film I wanted to go deep into a part of my brain with not too much restraint. That was the key with every aspect of this project. I did not question my ideas.
Would you say that primarily the visuals matched the words or the words that you had written matched the visuals in this film?
That is a good question. I think that in regard to past projects that I have done on my own, with this film it all came together. I think I was “imaging” the story with the visuals all at the same time.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I hope they feel sorry for me and my bad luck with girls. Not in terms of the film, but in my real life. I hope that lots of girls will propose to help me overcome my past experiences of rejection... Seriously, I am fine right now. I hope people will enjoy and become involved with the story. I hope people will be inspired to go back home and take a pair of scissors and a cardboard box and make their own little story.
What does it mean for you to have “The Science of Sleep” screened at Sundance?
It means that I got to call my actors and to tell them: “Yo, we’re going to Sundance!” Seriously, it’s a very good way to start the life of the film to me. Maybe the best one. It will be shown in the kind of environment where it will be appreciated for what it is.
ABOUT MICHEL GONDRY
MICHEL GONDRY (Director, Writer) Feature film director, commercial director, and award-winning music video director, Michel Gondry, often surprises himself with his own extraordinary ideas. Not one to limit himself to a single creative outlet, Gondry embraces each endeavor with the same creative flourish and looks to entertain his audience with his latest idea or dream. Gondry also recently received a 2005 Academy Award for his original screenplay for ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, for which he created the story alongside Charlie Kaufman and Pierre Bismuth.
Due for release is the tentatively titled, BLOCK PARTY, which Gondry developed and produced with Dave Chapelle. BLOCK PARTY was filmed in September 2004 in the streets of New York City and features performances by Dave Chappelle, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Talib Kwali, Kanye West, The Roots, Common, Dead Prez and many others including a surprise headliner. BLOCK PARTY was recently acquired by Focus Feature's Rogue Films division for release early 2006
Gondry's most recent feature film was the critically acclaimed ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, as a couple attempting to rescue their failing relationship by having their bad memories erased. ETERNAL... marks the second collaboration between Gondry and the Academy Award-winning writer Charlie Kaufman, with whom he conceptualized the story. The film was released theatrically on March 19, 2004 by Focus Features and on DVD in September of the same year. It went on to become one of the best reviewed films of 2004.
In 2003, Gondry saw the successful launch of THE WORK OF DIRECTOR MICHEL GONDRY, which features a DVD collection of his work as well as a book which includes Michel's stories, drawings, photographs and interviews. Included on the DVD is the personal full-length documentary, I'VE BEEN 12 FOREVER. The film highlights interviews with some of Gondry's previous collaborators, including Björk, Daft Punk, Beck and Dave Grohl.
Gondry himself appears in the film describing the inspiration behind many of his projects. Additionally, in an effort to highlight his personal influences, there are upfront interviews with family members, including his mother and young son, Paul, who is an aspiring creative force in his own right. The DVD was released under the newly launched Directors Label under the Palm Pictures banner in November 2003 and has since been well-reviewed by critics and lauded by both the filmmaking and music communities.
HUMAN NATURE, Gondry's first film, premiered at the 2001 Cannes International Film Festival and to U.S. audiences at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, before being released by Fine Line Features in April 2002. HUMAN NATURE starred Patricia Arquette and Tim Robbins, and is a philosophic look at the sometimes tragic, but quite human, interplay between an abnormally hirsute author, a feral young man, a kindly electrolysist, a repressed rodent researcher and his nubile French assistant.
When not contemplating the politics of personal relationships or body hair, Gondry is a highly regarded commercial and music video director. One of his first commercials, Levis' "Drugstore" (1994), garnered the Lion D'Or at Cannes and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most award-winning commercial of all time. Among his other notable credits are Levi's "Mermaids", silver medal winner at the Clio Awards and as well as a bronze at Cannes; and Smirnoff's "Smarienburg" (1997), which captured gold medals at Cannes and the Clio Awards. Most recently, Michel completed Diet Coke's "Bounce" featuring Adrian Brody which began airing last summer, Levi's "Bellybuttons" spot, and a series of spots for Gap's lyrical "That's Holiday" campaign.
Gondry got his start while studying graphics at a French art school when he began directing videos for the band Oui Oui, for which he played drums. The clip's success attracted other local bands, and it wasn't long before he was working internationally. In 1993 Gondry met pop singer Björk, commencing one of his longest and most successful professional creative relationships. Their first collaboration, the video for "Human Behavior," won practically every existing music video award. Gondry went on to helm another five of Björk's videos, including "Joga" and "Bachelorette," while also collaborating with such wide-ranging artists as The White Stripes, The Rolling Stones, Beck, Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow, Cibo Matto, Kylie Minogue, The Willowz, The Polyphonic Spree, Steriogram and Gary Jules. Most recently, Gondry directed his fourth video for The White Stripes, "The Denial Twist" featuring Conan O'Brien, in which Gondry recreates a distorted version of the week the Stripes appeared on "Late Night" in 2003, as well as Kanye West's "Heard 'Em Say" shot entirely on location at Macy's in New York slated for an upcoming special holiday release.
Gondry currently resides in New York with his son.