He may not be working with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, but The Science Of Sleep is another Spotless Mind-trip from fruit-loop French auteur Michel Gondry. However, there's a lot more Sunshine in this film than his last. Proving that you can razzle the retina without busting the bank, the kaleidoscopic visuals never overwhelm the sweet, screwball relationship between graphic artist Gael Garcia Bernal and his new neighbour Charlotte Gainsbourg, who conjure more chemistry than a thousand Hugh and Drews.
From the get-go it seems they're destined to be together - after all, he's called Stephane and her name's Stephanie. Naturally, though, there are obstacles. For one, Stephane's childish ways (petulance, unpredictability) don't always impress the more grown-up Stephanie. For another, his chat-up lines are abysmal: "I like your boobs. They're very friendly and unpretentious."
Still, the pair do form an infectiously cute (but never cutesy) bond through their mutual love of cut-and-paste creativity. Half the picture takes place inside Stephane's hyperactive imagination; relying on stop-motion animation rather than CGI, Gondry elicits endless delight with dreamscapes built from egg cartons, cardboard and cellophane. There are echoes of Terry Gilliam, but Gondry is clearly his own man(iac).
What's more, he grounds the flights of fancy in enough emotional reality to avoid seeming self-indulgent. But credit should be shared with the leads: frosty at first, Gainsbourg reveals warmth and sensitivity, while Bernal leavens his character's edge of creepiness with cheeky charm. Together they're silly, giddy, irrepressibly inventive - a lot like the film itself, in fact.
The Science Of Sleep is released in UK cinemas on Friday 16th February 2007.