Two bodies, first in sexual motion, then in a dark stillness accompanied by conversations of previous grief and existential dread. It’s a subject explored before by Éric Rohmer and in a much lighter sense with Linklater’s Before trilogy. It’s a certain style of romantic trope in cinema history to focus heavily on interesting protagonists as they attempt to connect with each other, revealed who they are with brevity, jokes, and noxious nostalgia. Nuit #1, the first feature of Québécois Anne Émond, aspires to this lineage, taking us from a glitzy, sweaty club nightlife to a dingy, starving-artist-approved apartment for real-time, blunt sex until the title card announces the time for the sometimes illuminating, yet always sophomoric dialogue.
Nikolai (Dimitri Storage) stops Clara (Catherine de Léan) as she takes her exit from what she assumed to be a typical one-night stand. Nikolai has other intentions — he expects a one-night stand to be followed by the kind of emotional connection that usually leads one to sex, that a firm bond must be connected by people who’ve seen each other naked, perhaps not just in the usual order. Nikolai further reveals that he has other revealing quirks: he’s entered his thirties having graduated college, yet without a degree due to a strict policy regarding library fees. He hasn’t held a decent job in years because he feels unsatisfied, too intelligent, always searching Wikipedia craving more packets of brief knowledge. In other words, he’s a sort of lovable (used in its lightest possible sense) loser, until he reveals his feelings of Clara: “Modern women make me sick; it’s like they’re men.” His sensitive nature leads him to generalizations of the kind of women he believes Clara to be: wandering drugged-up whores whose disregard for any traditional institute of relationships leaves (rather insufferable) men like him wanting and cold in a void of human connection.
Clara threatens to leave twice during Nikolai’s accusatory tirades, but in between the caustic remarks and heavy petting lie her own impressions of her self-worth and faux-romance. Nikolai notes that since he can remember that her pubic hair has a red post-shave glisten, he is validated in his need for fleeting romantic knowledge of her, while she wonders aloud why he did not declare his unadulterated love for her on the spot if he feels such commitment. They postulate a make-believe future and read from Québécois literature, only to eventually avoid their overwhelming abstraction in favor of the more practical topic of abortion — namely, Nikolai’s soft disappointment in having caused one and vehement malaise upon hearing of Clara’s incident. It is in these moments of specific events tied to these characters that make them shine briefly, outside the context of weak narrative function and almost identifiable as real people with struggles they can identify; yet, the film plays itself in favor of Nikolai’s sense of cataloguing. Nikolai’s taunts, calling her “easy” and “proud to be on drugs” forces Clara out once again into the rain, only to be physically reprimanded and taken back to the apartment, allowing her a brief moment in the bath for self-identification and sturdy disapproval, shockingly submitting to Nikolai. Previously presenting herself as “living with intensity”, she now admits to love the thrill of drinking and plaguing herself with uppers for sexual stamina to have the feeling of being desired when she walks into a room, often placing herself in overtly dangerous situations because “I like seeing them think I’m a slut.”
This final monologue from Clara begins with her proclaiming her innocence as a third-grade teacher for her daily work (a job from which she admits she should be fired) to defending her sexual appetite with a proclamation of her feminist empowerment to finally admitting: “I don’t think I’d mind dying.” It’s her downhill spiral to an admittance of loser-dom to mirror Nikolai, a connection that should make us reflect on what a difference a single night or connection can have on a recognizably imperfect person. However, Nikolai’s wafting atmosphere of artistic justification — that the world simply isn’t built for such a different and inspired (yet curiously idle) mind such as his — is not comparable to Clara’s metaphor of seeing her life as if a ghost, not willing to make any impression on the world, but simply to pass through in an air of ecstasy, completely unnoticed. Perhaps the coda makes us feel pity for Clara, but Nikolai’s hand of comfort around the weeping Clara in the bath serves as justification for his acidic complaints of her wanton behavior.
The film has recently been released on standard DVD by Adopt Films without any bonus features, perhaps not too much of a surprise for a recent debut indie feature. The audio quality allows you to hear every sentiment from the head-in-the-cloud romantics; the visuals replicate the digital bluntness of always placing the camera in a medium-shot of the subject so the audience will be certain to receive the impressive performances, but not much else.
Nuit #1 is immediately reminiscent of another film with a grungy apartment setting, drugs always in the peripherals and no sense of narrative in sight — In Vanda’s Room. In its broadest scope, the film seems to settle between Pedro Costa’s art-house seriousness, especially with its slow and visceral nature of the first 20 minutes and Linklater’s charming characterization in Before Sunrise and beyond. Its tepid yet valuable conversations indicate a clunky mosaic of ideas it wishes to press, yet cannot seem to follow past the language of high school love letters and themes of modern-age cliquey belonging. Though its characters are unenjoyable with a degree of purpose, its final judgment is problematic, perhaps granting Nikolai his juvenile complaints. Émond does grasp her generation’s problems effectively, pitting newly found independence and a clinging of what it means to be youthful against old yet reliable modes of romantic connection — a dialectic only heightened when neither party have truly found themselves yet. If only she had chosen her words more carefully.
— Zach Lewis