The shiny, happy reception awarded Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind was in keeping with the movie’s title. But one dark corner remained. Were the warm, tickly rays of genius beaming from director Michel Gondry or scripter Charlie Kaufman?
Kaufman’s demented talent wasn’t in question, thanks to previous A-grade oddities Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Gondry, however, was still an untagged specimen shifting under the microscope, the visual fizz of his (eye)pop(ping) promos falling flat in his previous Kaufman collaboration: man-dates-chimpwoman debut Human Nature. Okay, so his images glowed in Sunshine but it was Kaufman’s notions and words, spoken truly by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, that gave the picture its head, heart and soul.
The Kaufman-free The Science Of Sleep answers lingering questions. One, it confirms that Monsieur Gondry is, indeed, bonkers. Two, he’s a stylist and surrealist of some note, his work lacking the socio-political needle of Buñuel, the menace of Lynch, but infused with a playfulness that’s more charming than infuriating. And three – an extension of two, really – his films, with their va-va-voom visuals, act as an ode to the power of imagination. Untethered from logic, fired by fantasy, Gondry floats freely between the banal and the fanciful.
Yet while there’s pleasure to be had from traversing our hero’s dreamscapes (conjured by rudimentary animation) and crawling inside the TV studio of his mind (walls made of egg cartons, cameras of cardboard), Gondry’s weird Science is not the finished formula. Too often the work of a clever prankster with an arrested attitude towards sexuality and relationships, its adolescent – no, pre-pubescent – mindset is as much curse as gift. Ebullient, yes, but also slight, skewed and insignificant. And while Bernal works hard to warm the whimsy through, Gainsbourg’s frigidity ensures this odd couple, unlike Winslet and Carrey, leave hearts unstirred.
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Mischievous and magical, Gondry's bizarro movie offers visual pearl after visual pearl but no string to tie them together. Où est Kaufman?