Fantasy lapses into tweeness

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The Science of Sleep is director Michel Gondry’s follow-up to his dazzling, polished, instant cult favourite, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, and was thus the most eagerly anticipated new release of the week. Sadly it turns out to be, while very far from the worst film, the week’s biggest disappointment. The underlying reason for its failure may be that when he made Eternal Sunshine he was working from a script by the wildly inventive Charlie Kaufman, but here Gondry has written the screenplay by himself, and it is one marked by regular lapses into tweeness and semi-coherence.

Stéphane (Gael García Bernal) is an amateur inventor and professional calendar illustrator – it is the kind of story where everyone is a kook and has an appropriately kooky job – who returns from Mexico to his native Paris to make a new start. But two nagging problems hold him back from leading a fulfilling life. He hates his new job and more significantly he is finding it ever harder to maintain a grasp on reality. This we learn in a promising opening sequence set in the world of Stéphane TV, a realm that he inhabits during his REM-time.

This place, some kind of fusion of the fantasy elements of The King of Comedy and Being John Malkovich, is a studio where almost everything, including the cameras, is made of cardboard. There Stéphane can navel-gaze as much as he likes, although his attachment to this dream-world does make it difficult for him to hold down a job or forge meaningful relationships, notably with his cute – and kooky – neighbour Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg in a bewilderingly poor performance). There are a lot of amusing ideas, as you would expect from Gondry, but these increasingly get lost as the film follows Stéphane down a cul-de-sac of supposedly cute but actually deeply tiresome madness. Gondry should be encouraged, perhaps forced, to renew his collaboration with Kaufman.

If the 1979-89 Afghanistan war was the Soviet Union’s Vietnam, then Fyodor Bondarchuk, son of Sergei, wants us to see 9th Company, a heavily dramatised, indeed melodramatised version of real events, as a Russian equivalent to Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and Full Metal Jacket, although it is perhaps rather closer in tone to John Wayne’s tub-thumping The Green Berets. Like The Deer Hunter and Full Metal Jacket, the film has a lengthy prologue in which we are introduced to the central characters, a bunch of young Siberian men who have volunteered to serve in Afghanistan. Over several months they share everything, from the brutality of the boot-camp’s regime to the sexual favours of the camp’s one female inhabitant, before heading off to the war that will claim the lives of almost all of them.

Some but not all of this is rather involving, and Bondarchuk stages several impressive action sequences, particularly considering that he was working with a budget that would be considered modest for a British film, let alone an American one. But ultimately this is far too reliant on the clichés of the genre and it comes across not so much as a film about war, which is what Bondarchuk was expressly aiming for, as a film about other war films.

Like 9th Company, Hot Fuzz was made by men in their thirties who were long ago seduced by the sound and spectacle of cinematic gunplay. The big difference between the two is that co-writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright would happily admit to their love and accept that their film, like its predecessor Shaun of the Dead, is about other movies and little else. The central joke of Hot Fuzz is essentially the same as that of Shaun, only this time round instead of zombies incongruously running wild in English suburbia a buddy-cop action movie is transposed to a sleepy English village, with undertones of, in both senses, diabolical horror movies.

Nick Angel (Pegg) is a young Metropolitan Police cop so efficient that he is making his fellow officers look bad. He is therefore dispatched to the picture postcard village of Sandford (in fact Wells in Somerset) where his zero-tolerance approach to even the smallest outbreak of criminality proves intolerable to most of the locals (Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Edward Woodward, Billie Whitelaw among them), who have their own ways of dealing with anti-social behaviour.

It is frequently funny, notably overlong and on several levels a relentless work, not least in its desire for the audience to have as good a time as the cast – Pegg and regular co-star Nick Frost are clearly fulfilling long-cherished fantasies in appearing in full-blown Michael Bay/John Woo-style action sequences. It is also exceptionally violent and exceedingly loud. There have perhaps been more visceral comedies – you think of the early films of Peter Jackson – but has there ever been a louder one? And has any previous spoof employed such a migraine-inducing volume level as one of the key tools for its affectionate pastiche?

Eric Steel gained permission to set up his camera so as to film, from a distance, the everyday occurrences on San Francisco’s sublimely photogenic Golden Gate Bridge. What he had not told the authorities was that his attraction to the bridge lay not in its inherent aesthetic beauty so much as in the fact that the bridge is the most popular place in the world for suicides. In the year that he and his camera were there, 24 people leapt to their death from its mighty span and The Bridge, Steel’s remarkable, insightful, deeply unsettling film, shows with a combination of uncomfortable intimacy and eerie detachment the final moments and terminal fall of most of these.

The chilling, slightly chilly images inevitably bring to mind similar shots of those who jumped from the Twin Towers, although several of the jumpers in Steel’s film, notably the one with which the film ends, are identified to us because their leaps are accompanied by the accounts of those they left behind. Some may question whether this is as responsible a film as Steel set out to make, but it is a haunting work of unquestionable power, full of moments that are bound to linger long in the memory, whether or not we want them to.

The Bristol Suspension Bridge, which has seen its own share of suicidal jumpers over the years, features prominently at the beginning and end of the dire romantic comedy The Truth about Love, and the few critics who sat through this crude spin on Così fan tutte to the final credits at his week’s screening were clearly, at times audibly, willing either of the unfortunate leads, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Dougray Scott, to leap off the thing themselves to bring this to a merciful end.

The Truth about Love would normally be the worst film of any given week, perhaps of any given year or lifetime, but miraculously the wretched Because I Said So comes along to make this contest a close-run thing. Gondry should take note, because this execrable, often embarrassing high concept comedy – featuring Diane Keaton as a mother desperately seeking Mr Right for her stubbornly single daughter – is the latest directorial outing from Michael Lehmann, who first made a splash almost 20 years ago with his debut feature, the instant cult favourite Heathers.

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