RetroReviews #41: The Science of Sleep (2006)







The Science of Sleep is unwatchable. That’s the unfortunate conclusion I had to come to after striving mightily to sit through this film, scene after scene, but being unable to do so. I hate to give The Science of Sleep a one-star review, because it’s not the type of film that is an example of a mindless generic CGI action flick that represents everything that is wrong with Hollywood (ala Man of Steel) , nor is it an example of a movie that had a great concept and amazing potential but squandered it and fell completely flat (ala Lady in the Water), or a movie that knows its exploitative garbage and makes no attempt to hide it (ala Showgirls). The Science of Sleep is a rare example of something else – a movie that completely disconnects from its audience no matter what your feelings are about it.



The film is European, and I have no problem with foreign language films from other countries – some of my favorite movies include Pan’s Labyrinth and Das Boot. In the case of this movie,the film itself is a surreal concept that is not meant to be a linear narrative. Although I’m not a fan of “abstract” movies, I can enjoy them in their own right. Great examples are Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Here, The Science of Sleep actually has a concept that sounds pretty damn cool on paper: “Stéphane Miroux is a man whose vivid dreams and imagination often interfere with his ability to interact with reality”. Even better, the poster image for the movie just made me excited to learn more.



There was a big brick wall that prevented me from doing so: the film itself. This is some bizarre French-Italian joint production that continually switched back and forth between English and French language dialogue, along with some Spanish dialogue sprinkled in, just to make the film more jarring. The main character is a French man played by a Spanish actor who does most of his scenes in English, making the situation even more awkward than an immortal Scotsman being played by a French actor in Highlander. Many of the scenes have to deal with Stéphane’s interactions with the similarly named Stéphanie (played by legendary French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg) and seemingly go nowhere and drove me insane as the movie constantly switches back between the English and French language, often in the middle of a conversation (does anyone do this in real life besides Cajuns?), leading me to yell at the screen “Pick a language and stick to it!” To make matters worse, most of the scenes were very dry and just consisted of characters sitting around and endlessly musing philosophically. Some remarks and situations were obviously meant to be “comedic”, but I didn’t laugh once.



The Science of Sleep is in a class by itself because its not that the movie took a great concept and ruined it with poor screenwriting or fake over-the-top Hollywood direction, its that The Science of Sleep wasn’t able to communicate its concept on screen at all. Thus I’m forced to give this film a bad rating, though I don’t hold a grudge against the film or any of the filmmakers. The problem is the film they created really isn’t a film. The only analogy I can think of is going to an art show and trying to look at some interesting new painting that the painter insisted on placing in a pitch black room and hiding it behind a wall. I don’t fault the painting itself, but the result is that nobody can look at it.



I don’t know what The Science of Sleep is, but it’s not a movie.




* out of ****



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