MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The film director who made the offbeat romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has made another movie that takes place inside the head of its leading character. It's called the Science of Sleep. Bob Mondello says that as you might expect from that title, it's about dreams.

BOB MONDELLO: You know that moment when you're just waking up and things feel a little hazy, halfway between the real world and whatever you were dreaming about? Well, imagine that you could stay there, half in and half out, and you're picturing the life of Stephane.

He's a graphic artist with an excruciatingly dull job but an amazing imagination. So in his dreams he'll find himself in, say, a television studio with walls made of egg cartons and TV cameras made of cardboard doing a sort of cooking show.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Science of Sleep")

Mr. GAEL GARCIA BERNAL (Actor) (as Stephane): Welcome back to another episode of Television Educative. Tonight I'll show you how dreams are prepared. As you can see, a very delicate combination of complex ingredients is the key.

MONDELLO: Complex is right. He starts tossing ingredients into a big pot -liquid random thoughts from a squeeze bottle, reminiscences that look like perfume, memories made of spaghetti.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Science of Sleep")

Mr. BERNAL: For two people. Love, friendships, relationships and all those ships.

MONDELLO: He throws in powders, chotchkes, CDs, DVDs, and when red smoke starts rising in the pot, he dashes to the door and stands here right on the brink.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Science of Sleep")

Mr. BERNAL: I'm talking quietly to not wake myself up.

MONDELLO: Welcome to Stephane's world, pictured as a fantastical playground by filmmaker Michel Gondry, with paper cutout cities that twist in the wind, faucets that spout cellophane and ski lifts powered by fishing reels. It's a world where if you have a time machine tape recorder, you can back up through the last few seconds and let them play again.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Science of Sleep")

MONDELLO: Now the sort of guy who would want to stay in this playground of the mind is clearly a little whacked out. In the parlance of psychiatry, maybe emotionally stunted? But Gael Garcia Bernal plays Stephane as a really engaging man-child. Such a charmer and so adorably inept around the opposite sex that when a young woman named Stephanie moves in across the hall, you can't help hoping he's finally found a playmate.

Stephane, Stephanie, they're made for each other, right? Especially with Charlotte Gainsbourg playing a dreamer's dream come true.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Science of Sleep")

Mr. BERNAL: Okay. I'll go get the camera and you go, you do the forest.

Ms. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG (Actress) (as Stephanie): Whoa, whoa, whoa. By the time you get back I'll be sleeping.

MONDELLO: And that's the catch. They can't actually live in the dream world. And to a dream spinner like Michel Gondry, that's dilemma enough to hang a movie on. Not a conventional movie. Cinematic fantasy these days tends towards the physical with heroes in spandex. But the sort of fantasy Gondry favors is more like those '60s head trip movies. King of Hearts, say, or more recently Amelie. Films that released an audience's inner child rather than pandering to it.

It's the sort of the thing that if you don't find it charming is going to seem too precious by half. So it helps that the filmmaker is such a visual virtuoso. He loves effects that seem low tech, as if he'd set a kindergarten class loose in a crafts store. But by the time he's layered and digitized the images they look just amazing.

When Stephane hops onto a cloth horse in the Science of Sleep and gallops across bookshelves to leap into fields of real flowers, you think, okay, this character and his director are both nuts. But who'd ever want to wake up.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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