Directed by Michel Gondry (2006) Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsborough, Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou
This was one of those movies that got hyped up a lot when I was in high school, but ended up on my list of Indie Disappointments. Michel Gondry creates an interesting premise of a young man who gets his dreams and reality confused while he lives in France after his father’s death.
Gael Garcia Bernal plays Stephane in a tri-lingual role, which is impressive in itself, but he’s given pointedly childish material to work with. While Stephane is stuck with a job he hates and reluctantly falls in love with his neighbor Stephanie (Gainsborough), he is extremely petulant. His dreams take place in a TV studio, where he’s the host for a cooking or music or talk show. He’ll venture into the office of his boss or explore the stop-motion animated world, which is at once a cave.
Gondry crafts the unreality of Stephane’s dreaming very well. Set pieces tend to fold together while the dream logic is paramount, between what the water is made of (cellophane) and how the dream-characters act. When Stephane begins to act outside of his dreams, such as leaving Stephanie a letter he wrote while asleep, he gets caught in problems. Stephane is childish in everything: He hates his mother’s boyfriend and his boring coworkers. He continues to sleep in his childhood bed even though he’s outgrown it. Most notably, he keeps up the charade of not-being the neighbor of Stephanie, even after she’s found out.
What’s genuine are the scenes where Stephane and Stephanie share their imaginations. They’re sweet little sets with a flexible reality as the characters come up with brilliant ideas. However, these ideas never come to fruition, and it’s the fault of both characters. Stephane won’t make a move, while Stephanie is reluctant to get hurt.
The dream sequences won me over, but they didn’t make up for the thin, character-driven plot in reality.