The Science of Sleep Balboa Theater
It may be that I just want to go see anything with Gael Garcia Benal in it, or it may be that the central logo for the film resembles an etching by Nahum Zenil, "Otro Sueño", which depicts two men, winged, riding a stuffed horse. I'm certain that it is both. Regardless of the impetus, it was a film that was somewhat confusing, but ultimately satisfying. The film by Michel Gondry, stretches our sense of cognition and realization.
When I was still in the last two years of college, Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up" finally made its way to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where it was seen as an outrageous film, probably because of the then unheard of beaver shot in the wrestling match between two young women. What I remember from the film, is not that so much, as the concluding scene in which all sense of reality is cast aside and David Hemmings' character plays tennis with himself (if I remember it correctly). That film with its slowly evolving realization that a murder had been witnessed, diminishes the line that ostensibly lies between the real and the unreal.
This film pushes the border in that drill. In what I thought was a incidental part of the plot, the two women next door drill through the wall into Stephane's (Gael Garcia Benal) bedroom. It becomes the pretext for Stephane to meet Zoe and Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). But it is much more than that. Stephane's private world has been breached by these young women, and soon Stephanie begins to share in Stephane's world. As we continue to view the film we soon realize that it is not only the world of Stephane's bedroom that has been pierced, but all of his worlds.
The New Yorker reviewer found the pace of this film breathless, and unforgiving, never knowing what was real and what was not. This is, I suspect Gondry's point; that dreams are not on some other side of a divide, occupying a different and distinct place. Dreams are all about us, hardly just in the bedroom, or in the embrace of a pillow. Even more fundamental is that the dreams are constructed and transparent.
In the film the constructed dreams are all about cardboard, cotton, paste, and scissors. The transparent dreams are all about rude insertions in the day's business, when the usual absurdities of life are exaggerated beyond the usual. One doesn't need to be in high REM sleep to take part in either of these, one just needs to be open and alive to see them. Indeed, to enjoy them.
Oddly, in the course of the film the similar names (Stephane/Stephanie) didn't hit me. They seemed to be characters attracted/repelled from one another. Slowly, however, Stephanie becomes aware of Stephane's worlds and thoughts. Or is Stephane an aspect of Stephanie or visa versa? Do these characters exist at all, or are they, or some of them just figments. It reminds me of a speech from "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens:
"You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.
"I don't," said Scrooge.
"What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?"
"I don't know," said Scrooge.
"Why do you doubt your senses?"
"Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than grave about you, whatever you are."
--A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Reality, if we are to listen to Dickens, and to the voices of modern physics, isn't all it's cracked up to be. Or, if we prepare to see and experience, perhaps it is cracked up to be more than we can image, or see. This film has a great deal to say about self, self and other, environment, imagination, and realization. It is probably not intended to be coherent, at least as coherent as the average movie-goer or movie critic would like. Even our own thinking at times is distinctly incoherent. If art is an interpretation of what it means to be, then this film is high art. It is, however, only viable to those who are willing to ask the questions it poses.
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