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Direct to Instant View Purgatory: Science of Sleep

Services like Netflix and YouTube have made the most recent films readily available to anyone. Can we find anything of value in the muck of b-movies, ambitious failures and exploitative crap-fests? We’re going to find out in Dispatches from Instant View Purgatory.

What’re we watching: “The Science of Sleep,” director Michael Gondry’s return to an original script after “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.”

What does it look like: If Francois Trouffant would have spent three months huffing paint, and watching “Before Sunrise” while making paper-mache masks, it would have looked damn close to “The Science of Sleep.”

What’s going on: Stéphane is a French/Mexican pseudo-inventor who moves to Paris in search of a job. He quickly becomes obsessed with his next door neighbor, Stéphanie, played by the gorgeous and ever talented Charlotte Gainsbourg. Stéphane’s dreams slowly start to bleed into his reality and his jealous, childlike nature complicates whether he can make the relationship with his neighbor work.

Why haven’t we heard of this: The movie is half in English, half in French and all confusing. An homage to French New Wave, particularly Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Trouffant, “The Science of Sleep” features multiple realities, a television show that hosts many of Stéphane’s dreams and a series of stop motion animated sequences that call back to earlier scenes, making it an occasionally difficult movie to keep up with.

What works: “The Science of Sleep” is shockingly gorgeous. The credit sequence is exquisite and all of Stéphane’s dreams balance the line of beautiful and heartbreaking in equal measure.

What doesn’t: Stéphane is a hard character to love. He’s childlike, violent, impulsive, overly sensitive and often too quirky for his own good. The arc of his character is interesting, but by film’s end, it’s fine to let him go.

Skip to: One of the early dream sequences features Stéphane bumbling around his office, fighting people with giant hands before having sex in fast motion with a woman on a photocopier. At one point, Stéphane and Stéphanie attempt to film a version of “vegetable Noah’s Arc,” which leads to piano keys making cotton ball clouds float around the room.

The Verdict:  “The Science of Sleep” is to American audiences what Godard’s “Breathless” was to French audiences. It’s a beautiful look at French storytelling from a director who knows his stuff, but it’s a frustrating movie for those who aren’t ready for what they’re getting into.

What’s coming up next: Nothing, but brace yourselves for another exciting semester of Instant Stream spelunking starting in January.

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