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Beautiful Zzzzs

The Science of Sleep”

Warner Independent Pictures

Written and directed by Michel Gondry

Starring: Gael Garca Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jean-Michel Bernard, Miou-Miou, Emma de Caunes and Alain Chabet

Rated R/105 minutes

Opens Sept. 29,2006

Three out of four stars

There were times during Michel Gondry’s persistently precious, dream-frolicking fantasy “The Science of Sleep” that I wanted to scream “Uncle!” and release myself from the movie’s bully grip of cardboard-cutout fancy and pummeling playfulness.

But those are also the very reasons to see this movie-the very reasons for its existence-so I begrudgingly recommend it while warning you that eating too much cotton candy might give you a headache.

Gondry is a French filmmaker whose radically inventive music videos can be seen on “The Director’s Label” DVD set, which I recommend you check out immediately. He is the daffy genius who animated The White Stripes in Legos (“Fell in Love With a Girl”) and set loose a gorgeous swarm of Kylie Minogues in London (“Come Into My World”). These tasty bonbons are delicious little pop treats that will bowl you over with their visual ingenuity and “How did they do that?” trickery.

Now imagine a bonbon enlarged to 50 times its size and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect with “The Science of Sleep.”

Try eating that.

Gael Garca Bernal plays Stphane, a wildly creative 20-something who has the wide-eyed innocence and fragile boyishness of a terminal 10-something. His Paris apartment is rigged with ramshackle Rube Goldberg devices. With a yank of a string, a complex system of pulleys, marbles and toy pterodactyls opens a door in twice the time it would take Stphane to get off his lazy butt and open it himself. This contraption is not in the same league as the breakfast-making machine from “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” but cut him some slack-Stphane is working with what looks like dumpster leftovers from Robert’s Crafts instead of kitschy odds-and-ends from the Warner Bros.’ prop department.

He’s an up-and-coming eccentric.

Bored by the menial printing job his mother hooked him up with, Stphane’s whacked-out imagination conjures up vivid scenarios in which he’s god of his own Tinker-Toy world or host of “Stphane TV” (His imagined self calls up his real self in bed: “Are you mocking me on the air?” Yeah, it’s that kind of movie).

He also yearns for Stphanie (the luminescent Charlotte Gainsbourg), a pretty girl across the hall who could be his artistic soul match if only his pathetic immaturity didn’t push all her wrong buttons (he sure pushed mine).

Stphane is one of the more intriguing (nice way of saying annoying) movie characters in recent years. He’s charming and talented, but also whimsical and needy to the point of irritation. Bernal plays these conflicting personality traits well and Gainsbourg appropriately reacts to these traits with curiosity, anger and sadness.

Gondry’s script is well-informed in the frustrating stops-and-goes of a blooming romantic relationship. It’s also so punch-drunk in love with its macaroni noodle playlands that neither we, nor Stphanie, have anything solid to land on. We can only flap our arms in search of solid ground for so long.

Stphan, Gondry and their movie are in a constant state of creation. I was reminded of another talented creator: Robin Williams. He creates characters and situations out of thin air, jumping in and out of impressions and voices and pantomime and…ugh. It wears you out. “The Science of Sleep” is like that.

“It’s a tarantella! A tarantella!” Gabriel Garcia Bernal plays chamber music with some cats in “The Science of Sleep.”

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