Monday, September 25, 2006

Sleepy Science With Michel Gondry

The Science of Sleep / La Science Des Rêves
(Michel Gondry, France, R, 105 mins.)


The third feature from Michel Gondry is a fanciful jumble of languages and visual trickery concerning two artistically inclined would-be lovers, Stephane (Gael García Bernal) and Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). She's French-British and he's Mexican-French. They live in the same Parisian apartment building and learn to communicate using a highly fractured English. Language problem aside, they should be perfect for each other: They love vintage toys and even share the same name.

Unfortunately, Stephanie thinks Stephane is more interested in her friend Zoë,
and Stephane spends far too much time in his head to connect with anyone completely. In his first screenplay without an assist from Charlie Kaufman (Human Nature, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Gondry allows the audience full access
to Stephane's bizarre daydreams. This creates as much melancholy as hilarity
since a potential relationship continually takes a backseat to an imagined one.

While Gondry was in town during SIFF, I conducted a joint interview alongside
a fellow named Tyler from Green River Community College. Tyler asked plenty
of good questions, so I've decided to include them in the following transcript.


Tyler: Have you been to Seattle before?

Gondry: I've been a bunch of times. One was for a wedding, then I was
here with Charlie Kaufman two years ago to promote Eternal Sunshine.

Gondry and Bernal in Berlin
Tyler: I've noticed your music videos and your movies have a sort of
mathematical internal logic to them. Is that something that you...?
Gondry: Yeah, very much so. I like mathematics -- not that I was really good
at it -- I was good at geometry. I like the thinking of mathematics. I like to try
to find patterns in nature or in storytelling, as well. I like to find shapes in storytelling, try to represent flow and continuity of the story as a sort of graphic,
and actually I always do sort of a map of the movie before I start to shoot.
Tyler: Was this script [The Science of Sleep] written in the various languages?
Gondry: Initially I wrote it in French. Then I wrote it in American --
in English -- then I did a version with the two bridged together.
Tyler: Was Gael supposed to speak Spanish or was that in the casting?
Gondry: It came from casting him, but I cast him one year before we started
to shoot, so I had time all this year. I worked with having him in mind. And we
knew little by little when we met -- we knew who played his mother [Miou-Miou],
we knew she didn't want to speak English. So we said, 'Okay, with her, he's
gonna have to speak French.' Sometimes it happens like that. You get an actress you really want to work with, but she refuses to speak English, so you have to
make it work. But sometimes it's for the best of the project -- it really makes
sense to the story. I tried to make it as believable as possible.
Tyler: Is that part of the reason you decided to shoot it in France? Because
it seems like your other two movies were more American productions.
Gondry: Because it's really personal and I wanted to have the background I knew. Like on Eternal Sunshine, I did three months of research over in New York to find out how people live and to make it real. On this one, I didn't want to spend this time, and I really wanted to make it from what I had in mind already, so actually I got
to shoot in the building where I used to live 10 years ago -- two floors above -- and on the street. It's a location I know very well. It saved a lot of time. As well I wanted to have this image -- this thrill -- when you come back to a place you've not been for awhile and you come back there and you fix something, so I wanted to take it there.
Stephane (Bernal) as seen from Stephanie's apartment
Tyler: I'm assuming this is also why you tried to use more home-made, stop-
motion kind of things -- physical effects -- as opposed to computer graphics?
Gondry: Both, actually. I'm doing a video for Beck now ["Cell Phone's Dead"].
It's gonna be a lot of computer effects, but we have done some effects as well
in the camera. I mean, for The Science of Sleep, everything is Stephane's creation
or Stephanie's creation. I think it makes sense that it's all home-made, because
at the end of the day when you watch the film you will not feel you're going into
the world of a crazy art director or [movie] director, you're just going into Stephane's world. So, if you assume Stephane is me, then you're going into my world, but before all you're going into Stephane's world, and the different landscape of the dream can be all different or all really contradictory. They all match because you
feel he made them himself. It was important for me that -- even though I was not really aware of this -- it was important that this was his predicament.
Fennessy: Since you named him [Stephane] Miroux, was that a play
on Joan Miró? I know he's Mexican, but [Miró] is a Spanish artist...
Gondry: No, I mean I think it's good that you can find anything. It's
not easy for me to come up with names. It's not like I'm a writer...
Fennessy: In that book [the Director Series booklet, which
Tyler brought to the interview], there's a cat named Mirou...
Gondry: That's correct. I remember picking my brother up at school when I
was working on this screenplay and I picked the name of one of his teachers.
Fennessy: So it's random?
Gondry: Well, at first it feels real, but [it] feels very self-conscious to use
a name. It's kind of very French, very flat, but then you get used to it.
Fennessy: In Spanish, it's 'I see' or 'I look' -- the
verb is mirar -- so there's a lot going on there!
Gondry:'s very random. I think as long as you're in tune with
yourself, you can go in many directions and always return in a good way.
Joan Miró likes feet, too
Tyler: You do a lot of animation. Have you thought about doing animated movies?
Gondry: I'm not sure I would want to do an all-animated movie. I was thinking today I would like to do an animation that I would do every day for five seconds for one year and then see where it goes, but completely improvized -- do animated doodles. It's very satisfactory. It's just so relaxing, doing a little drawing and then it comes to life. So maybe I will do something like this. Today I was interviewed for TV, and I took a notebook and as I was doing the interview, I did a figure and then another one and another one. And then I said, 'Okay, you have to take all the shots, get one frame on each,' because his friend's gonna be an animator. I did a guy with a small foot on a big foot and he tries to walk on it. [Makes boom-chucka-boom noise] And then I said, 'Oh, I should do something like that for a bigger size.'
Next: On Charlotte Gainsbourg, Björk, and the White Stripes
The Science of Sleep is currently playing at the Egyptian Theatre (801
E. Pine). For more information, please click here or call 206-781-5755.

1 comment:

  1. I l-o-v-e-d this movie! 'The Proposition' and 'The Science of Sleep' were my favorites at SIFF this year. It's funny, sad, original, perplexing, and it looks fantastic in spite of a miniscule budget. I went to the press screening, you were there, everyone roared, and I went again on closing night. 'Eternal Sunshine' was interesting, but the casting was troublesome, and it now seems as though this next film was a logical progression. Much credit certainly goes to Gondry, but Bernal is destined for greatness.
    My review posted here, June 15.