Because I was so very enamored with director Michel Gondry's previous offering, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as well as because of the forced-whimsy feel of the trailer, I went into The Science of Sleep very trepidations. I spent weeks tempering my expectations, reminding myself that brilliance like Eternal Sunshine is often a one-off, and that this film stars Gael García Bernal, who drove me nuts in that steaming piece of crap Y tu mamá también, then went on to ruin The Motorcycle Diaries.
I ought not to have bothered. The Science of Sleep is a magical, beautiful film. It is exactly what it's trying to be, and scenes where it tries to hard are kept to a blessed minimum. Bernal's Stéphane is as understated and non-nauseating as possible, if necessarily child-like, and co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg is fantastic as the equally, if less vocally fucked-up Stéphanie.
No, the plot is not rocket science, but it is enough to carry the story along from beautiful scene to beautiful scene, and that's really all that is required of it. Not only are the artistic effects superb, but the music, composed by Jean-Michel Bernard (who also plays a small part in the beginning of the film) is fantastic. The combination gives the viewer the sense of being in a dream, which is pretty much the idea, and as the film progresses, the line between dream and reality blurs for the viewer as much as for Stéphane. The film's three languages (Spanish, French, and English) help this blur, particularly if you are me and you only understand one of them and can't read subtitles. Even if the whole film had been in French, though, it wouldn't have much mattered. Other than a very funny (to my mind) comment about unpretentious breasts late in the movie, the dialogue was very much secondary.
Critics have claimed this movie rests too much on effects and art and lacks in plot and story, as well as lambasting Bernal's Stéphane as a protagonist who inspires no empathy. I disagree with this reading, as I found Bernal more compelling in this film than in any of his more critically acclaimed performances. And Charlotte Gainsbourg's power to draw the viewer in without seeming to mean to shouldn't be underestimated. It's true that Bernal and Gainsbourg are in many ways supporting cast to the lead of the film's sets and props, but I don't see anything wrong with that.