All entries for Monday 10 November 2008

November 10, 2008

Review of "The Science of Sleep

The Science of Sleep
5 out of 5 stars

Whether or not “The Science of Sleep” can count as a non-English language film is up for debate, as a substantial part of the dialogue is, in fact, in English. However, it is a French film, produced by Michel Gondry, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and set in Paris.

English is the second language of both the Mexican protagonist Stéphane and his French love interest Stéphanie, becoming akin to a private language for the both of them. I don’t think you have to be as enthusiastic about languages as I am to appreciate how the various changes between English, French and Spanish are an original way of changing the tone and showing how lost Stéphane feels in Paris. Stéphane and Stéphanie speak their shared second language together fluently, and it seems to me to be a metaphor for how they have new selves with each other – how speaking a language gives you the feeling of a slightly new identity – not in opposition to your mother tongue, just different.

So, nonetheless, even though I may be jeopardizing my chance to win a £50 Amazon voucher, I’m reviewing “The Science of Sleep” because it is one of the most original, surreal, entertaining, clever, visually engaging films I’ve ever seen, which also manages to put in a sweet and understated romance and plenty of humour, some of it offbeat, some of it satirical and some of it just very silly (in a good way).

The film is about basically about dreaming, and the travails of a shy, naive young man called Stéphane who experiences very vivid dreams on a nightly basis. He moves from Mexico to Paris after being promised a creative job, but the reality turns out to be much more mundane. He becomes friends with two girls who live in his apartment building, and after some confusion, develops a crush on one of them - Stéphanie. That’s the plot in its entirety, with the only narrative being Stéphane’s (and thus, the audience’s) increasingly tenuous grasp on the difference between dreams and reality, and the developing relationship between Stéphane and Stéphanie. It’s to Gondry’s credit that the film’s main appeal lies away from the “will they, won’t they?” aspect of their relationship, when a traditional happy ending would have made a very easy narrative arc.

The film starts off with a sharp contrast between the naturalist portrayal of Stéphane’s waking life, and the surreal depiction of his dreams on screen. As the film continues, the lines get blurred, as Stéphane’s overactive imagination and vivid dreams interfere with his ability to deal with reality, and he is shown to be something of a fantasist, and certainly very childlike. I’ve never seen what a dream actually feels like represented so brilliantly on screen. Everything is there: how the most fantastic occurrences seem normal, how ordinary characters from ones daily life become monstrous, the state of being half-asleep where it seems as if the real world is intruding on the dream and one can’t be sure which one is “reality”.

Plenty of dreams are symbolic, and of course, he dreams about Stéphanie. The symbols behind the dreams are never laboured, and all of them are so engaging to watch it seems like some were put in for fun. Cardboard cityscapes sway outside of Stéphane’s office window, he bathes in cellophane, and plays in a band all dressed up as animals, singing a nauseating love song for Stéphanie. A recurring dream is that he is presenting his own TV show – a kind of round-up news show on events in his daily life, and whenever his alarm clock wakes him up halfway through he wonders who is trying to take the show off the air.

Stéphane’s waking life has some brilliant moments as well – I found the sharp observations of the petty arguments and predictable jokes between his colleagues hilarious, especially the overweight, sex-obsessed, middle-aged Guy. Stéphane is like a fish out of water with these people; he’s shy, naive and not remotely interested in the "Office Ski Trip" they try and make him sign up for. They turn up his dreams, letting us see them how Stéphane sees them, hilariously juxtaposing the banality of his office life and the outrageous creativity of his dreams. Outside of work, Stéphane and Stéphanie make art projects together, and he charms her with home-made inventions - time machines, a motorised stuffed pony, a device to read her mind. Although this could easily descend into tweeness, it doesn't, thanks, I think, to Gael Garcìa Bernal's portrayal of Stéphane as guileless, awkward and entirely lacking self-awareness, and Charlotte Gainsbourg's level-headed portrayal of Stéphanie. She finds Stéphane charming and possibly a kindred spirit, but also wearies of his frequent strange and childlike behaviour.

I think the film's one fault is that the second half is slightly too long, with most of the witty dialogue, observant humour and romance in the first half. As Stéphane's mental state deteriorates, it seems more tragic that the only place he finds solace is in his dreams. I would have preferred a happier or more conclusive ending, if not necessarily a white wedding between Stéphane and Stéphanie.

However, these are very small faults in "The Science of Sleep" and I would recommend it to anyone. It's rare that a film is both very entertaining, with laugh-out-loud moments and amazing visual creativity, as well as so clever and imaginative that I'd be tempted to call Michel Gondry a creative genius.

dream in "the science of sleep"

stephane and stephanie

The Chorus / Les Choristes

The Chorus / Les Choristes
3 out of 5 stars

Directed by: Christophe Barratier

The Chorus is at times sad, at times amusing and the soundtrack alone is amazing. The story follows a teacher as he starts at a very disciplined boarding school for difficult or forgotten children. He starts a choir and over time the atmosphere at the school improves thanks to his music, especially for one boy who has a hidden talent for singing. The stories of the boys and the situation they now find themselves in is moving and watching the film could be considered a somewhat cathartic experience. The soundtrack for the film is impressive, beautiful and will leave a lasting impression. I would definitely recommend this film to others whether they study French or not.

Trois Couleurs: Bleu

5 out of 5 stars

Spielberg or Kieslowski?                           By Sam Magrath

Juliette Binoche’s career path could have turned out quite differently from the way it has. In 1993 she was faced with a tough but enviable choice. Steven Spielberg had offered her the lead female role in his blockbuster, Jurassic Park. Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski had Binoche in mind for the first in his Three Colours trilogy, which was to be entitled Blue. Few actors turn Spielberg down; Binoche proved the exception. After reading the script for Jurassic Park, which, it would be an understatement to say, is a little lacking in the characterisation department, Binoche memorably remarked that all the good roles in the film had already been allocated – to the dinosaurs. She chose to make Blue, which said a lot about the kind of artist she wanted to be and the kind of films she wanted to make; she could so easily have become a Hollywood darling, making blockbusters and cashing in huge cheques. True, she has made the occasional foray into Hollywood (The English Patient, Dan in Real Life), but, in the fifteen years since Blue, she has worked overwhelmingly with auteurs and visionary directors on challenging, European pictures, bringing her unique intelligence and sensibility to all of them.

Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue is one such film and was awarded the Golden Lion at Venice. Binoche plays Julie, a woman who has just lost her husband and only child in a car accident. Overwhelmed by grief, she attempts to kill herself, but she realises she cannot go through with it. Even in the darkest hour of her suffering the urge to live is too strong; even the rawest grief is better than the numbness of death.

Three Colours: Blue is a profound, vivid and affecting study of Julie’s grief over the next few months. Indeed, many scenes in the film are difficult to watch. The opening credits have barely finished rolling when one such moment occurs. Julie is in hospital and still too weak to attend her family’s funeral so must watch via television. Alone, she breaks down. The camera never lets up in its study of her grief as it incessantly tracks her face in a close-up shot until she breaks into tears. Such is the level of her suffering that, at times, it feels almost voyeuristic to watch and intrude upon this women’s personal grief.

Julie abandons the home full of memories in which she lived with her family and moves to Paris in an attempt to deal with her grief. The reasons for the move are twofold, as she later explains to her mother:”I don’t want any possessions, any friends, any love. Those are all traps.” By moving to Paris she can concentrate fully on her grief and cut herself off from humanity. She also wants to punish herself for living when those closest to her have died. But no one can survive without human contact, and Julie’s emotional journey to where she learns to be open again is an inspiring one.

As magnificent as Binoche is in the film, Blue belongs equally to its director, Kieslowski, whose innovative and highly stylized direction will not be to everyone’s taste. He rewrites the rules of modern cinema by fading the screen to black during highly charged moments and breaking the film's linear rhythm. All this heightens the emotional intensity of the scene. It is a risky move, but one which Kieslowski pulls off with considerable verve. And despite dealing with such an emotive subject matter, he never lets the film slip in sentimentality or endorses easy answers to impossible problems.

Like all films, Blue is not without certain minor weaknesses. At one point the plot goes off on a tangent and our heroine manages to find herself coming to the aid of a neighbour who works in a strip joint. The realism of the film is, fortunately, not broken, but it feels like an unnecessary scene and the nudity is gratuitous. Moreover, Julie’s reaction when she discovers her husband was not the angel she thought he was strains slightly at credibility. But perhaps the greatest difficulty is that Binoche’s performance is just too good. Let me explain: Blue is the first in a trilogy and it is so affecting that it undermines the films which follow it. In my view, Kieslowski did not match it with his next two efforts. Julie Delpy and Irène Jacobs – two very fine actresses – cannot bring the raw emotionality to their parts that Juliette Binoche did. It’s a small, perhaps pernickety criticism, but a criticism nonetheless.

However, we shouldn’t dwell on the negative. Kieslowski died in 1996 and was a true auteur of European cinema; thankfully, Juliette Binoche is alive and well and continues to make films. (If you like the Three Colours trilogy and Juliette Binoche, then try Michael Haneke’s Hidden.) What’s more, Blue was a truly European production, funded by Polish, Swiss and French money, which epitomises the co-operation, intelligence, creativity and general excellence that exists in European cinema. Let’s hope Hollywood doesn’t try to remake the Three Colours Trilogy. It would be a soppy mess. And they might try to add dinosaurs.

(Available in the TRC!)

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  • Merci ! Dirigé par au lieu de "directé" peux tu ajouter 2 lignes en français s'il te plait ? Mohamed… by on this entry
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