There was a great scene in the sitcom 'Father Ted' when Fr Ted Crilly (the late Dermot Morgan) showed Fr Dougal Maguire (Ardal O'Hanlon) a drawing which illustrated that what happens inside our heads are dreams and what occurs outside is reality.
'The Science of Sleep' is a bit like that scene, only much longer and nowhere near as funny.
Stéphane (Bernal) is a young, aspiring artist. After his father dies, his mother Christine (Miou-Miou) tempts him back from Mexico to his childhood home in Paris with the promise of a creative job with a calendar company. The job turns out to be little more than an exercise in cutting and pasting.
This mundane post, along with an infatuation with his new neighbour Stephanie (Gainsbourg), finds Stéphane relying more on his imagination to express himself. We learn that from an early age Stéphane has had problems separating dreams from reality. As his fondness for Stephanie and hatred of work grows, that line becomes increasingly blurred.
The strongest performance comes from Guy (Chabat), a vulgar, but amusing, co-worker of Stéphane's, who takes his youthful colleague under his wing and tries to educate him on workplace politics and the opposite sex.
The premise behind writer/director Michel Gondry's - best known for 2004's 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and his music video work - effort, is quite a good one, but is poorly executed. It is one of those films that you think might make more sense after repeated viewings, but there is not enough first time 'round to encourage you to come back.
Too often - especially early on - we are unsure if what we are seeing is real or not. Eventually we are able to distinguish the dream sequences from actual events. There may be a case to pin the word 'challenging' to this production, but that description is not always a favourable one. The persistent ambiguity that prevails for much of the movie is hard work for the viewer, and few will have the energy/inclination to keep up.
Gondry worked with Charlie Kaufman and Pierre Bismuth on the story for the Oscar-winning 'Eternal...' and perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that, when it comes to writing, he is better when he works with others.