By Matt Singer
You can’t spend a significant amount of time with director Michel Gondry without hearing at least four ideas that are completely brilliant and utterly insane. The smartest/craziest I heard during our half hour chat: Gondry’s unsuccessful proposal to push the advertising for his current film, “The Science of Sleep,” with selling points from his next one, “Be Kind Rewind.” “It would have said, ‘From the director of Jack Black’s next movie!'” Gondry said. “They didn’t go for it.”
Gondry’s ideas make him perhaps the single most exciting director alive today, but, as this story illustrates, his ideas aren’t always admired. There’s a lot of that Gondry, that mad and occasionally unpopular thinker, in Gael Garcia Bernal’s character Stephane in “The Science of Sleep.” Stephane toils away at a calendar company where his co-workers reject his creativity and insist on practicality. It’s a feeling Gondry knows all too well.
You’ve said numerous times that “The Science of Sleep” is a very autobiographical film. Does the fact that it’s such a personal story make it an easier or harder film to shoot?
It makes it easier in a sense, because I know where the characters are coming from, especially Stephane. And I knew a lot of the details because they already happened in real life. But it makes it very hard because the details included could be very embarrassing. But it was interesting because it was a good challenge to have to deal with that. I would have never expected I was capable of writing the story and directing the whole film and I’m glad I did.
And this was your first film that you both wrote and directed. Why did you choose to go that route with this project?
Well, because I could not explain the film to a writer. I didn’t want to justify or explain the dreams. I had to do them the way I experienced them, otherwise the whole thing would be pointless. As a writer, I’m not here to help the story. The story is there to help the dreams.
Gael’s job is so difficult in the film because he has to be both likable and unlikable, sometimes in the same scene.
Because the film was autobiographical, I didn’t want people to see it as revenge. So I decided if there was going to be heavy dysfunctionality, I would put it on my end; so, on Gael’s end. My first thought was that, since he’s really handsome, you wonder why Charlotte [Gainsbourg] is not necessarily attracted to him. So I had to push the neurosis a little bit more than in my case, and make him very intense and scary. But the thing is, he is such a likable person that I could push him even farther into being an asshole. If it had been another actor it would have been a different story.
You’ve worked with special effects many times in the past. In this case, you chose to forego digital effects in favor of a more analog approach.
Initially all the dreams were supposed to happen in [Stephane’s] office. But when I met Gael, he pushed me to go deeper into my personal dreams, and I thought that we could not afford to create that world in a realistic way. And I thought “Let’s do it hand-made it and it’ll be more humble.” Something I didn’t expect in the beginning that quickly became clear was that it gives you the feeling that no matter where you go you wind up in one of Stephane’s contraptions. The fact that it’s hand-made makes you feel you’re watching something made by Stephane.
If you’d had a bigger budget, would it have been a different movie?
I think I’d have made something more spectacular out of the dreams. I had so many ideas. But I don’t think it would have necessarily been better. Probably not as good, I would say.
“The Science of Sleep” and “Eternal Sunshine” might sound similar superficially, but when you watch them, they’re vastly different films. Did you feel any internal or external pressure to repeat “Eternal Sunshine” with this film?
No, it’s the opposite. I’ve had this project long before “Eternal Sunshine” and I’ve wanted to do this movie for so long. In fact, some people were trying to say to me “Don’t do this one, it’s too close to your last one,” but since it’s the movie I really wanted to make I didn’t care. I think what’s inside our heads is vast enough for two movies.
“The Science of Sleep” opens in limited release on September 22 (official site).