The Man Who Sleeps ★★★★

The Man Who Sleeps is a film dealing with existential depression and nihilistic alienation as a man, rejecting all but the bare minimum interaction with the world around him, sinks into a world of isolation and automaton-like repetition. Directed by Bernard Queysanne and based on the novel by Georges Perec (who also adapted his own book for the screen), The Man Who Sleeps is devoid of dialogue bar the diary-like narration of a female that contradicts and clarifies the slow, sisyphean events on screen. From the description it is easy to expect a cold and distant film that engages thanks to its technical merits yet that is not the case, it is a film that challenges its audience and gradually, methodically takes hold.

Jacques Spiesser is a handsome but entirely nondescript figure - a blank canvas allowing the viewer to project their own sense of self on to the character. At first the film’s main appeal comes in the form of the beautiful stark black and white photography and the meticulous editing. It is a film of staggering technical brilliance with the simple act of watching a man repeatedly walk aimlessly through the streets of Paris making for gripping viewing. Yet this rejection of a ‘normal’ life and descent into abstract isolation is blown apart in the final third as the film builds to a philosophical crescendo that challenges the protagonist’s carefully constructed way of life and view of the world. In a film of such formal precision the climax comes as a surprising and exhilarating release.

Comparisons with Alain Resnais are perhaps unavoidable due to the stylistic and thematic similarities but for me this is a far more engaging, challenging and honest work than Resnais ever produced and would make an interesting double bill with Michael Haneke’s equally brilliant, Seventh Continent. The Man Who Sleeps is not a film to approach lightly, in the wrong frame of mind it may well seem frustrating and pretentious, but sometimes cinema should not be spoon fed or consumed merely as time-wasting entertainment, and for those wanting more out of their films Queusanne’s unforgettable existential study comes highly recommended.