February 11, 2006

French director Gondry returns to subconscious

By Karin Strohecker

BERLIN (Reuters) - French director Michel Gondry, who won
an Oscar for co-writing "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless
Mind," has returned to the theme of the subconscious with his
latest film.

In "The Science of Sleep," which was screened at the Berlin
Film Festival on Saturday, "Motorcycle Diaries" star Gael
Garcia Bernal plays a shy misfit called Stephane.

The character moves from Mexico to Paris after his father's
death and takes up employment as a graphic designer, but
quickly loses interest in a job that involves little more than
sticking labels on advertising calendars in a basement.

His only bright spot is neighbor Stephanie, played by
Charlotte Gainsbourg, who joins him in childish games that blur
the boundaries between dream and reality.

"I always had disturbing dreams from when I was a child,"
Gondry told reporters after a press viewing. "Seeing that they
disturb me, I might as well make money from it."

Asked whether he saw similarities between himself and the
lead character, he replied: "It's very very close."

He added that he spent a year talking to Bernal about the
part before making the film.

"What is important for me is to meet an actor and to find a
common ground where we are both comfortable."

While many of the visions in the film were from his own
dreams, Gondry also drew on the garish visual world of Eastern
European children's program from the 1960s and 1970s.

"It is not pretentious. It just gives you the feeling you
could do it yourself," said Gondry, who worked on the script
for eight years.

The film drew warm applause from Berlin's famously fussy
press audience.

Featuring a time machine, recurring dreams, a mix of
animation and real footage and actors speaking to each other in
English to French and Spanish, The Science of Sleep thrives on
keeping the audience guessing.

For Bernal, it was the journey between Stephane's inner and
outer world that challenged him most.

"This film was an exercise on how to handle the demons I
meet in my sleep, and Michel put even more wood on that fire,"
said Bernal.

"Films are often about reality and nothing but reality. But
reality can be an inhibition that can be really bothering."