Friday, July 27, 2012

Quebec After Dark: Nuit #1

In Quebec, they have to do something to pass those long cold nights.  Two strangers work up quite a sweat, but much to her annoyance, he insists on talking afterwards . . . and talking and talking and talking.  Eventually though, they do start saying some interesting things in Anne Émond’s Nuit #1 (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Clara ought to be out of unemployed slacker Nikolaï’s league, but she is not very discriminating in such matters.  When she goes back to his place, it is good for him, but not for her.  That is one reason she tries to stealthily sneak out of there, but it is really just her standard M.O.  Intercepting her, Nikolaï tries to engage Clara in conversation, but she is not very receptive at first.  Nonetheless, before the night is out, they will share things more intimate than sex.

In the early rave and hook-up scenes, Émond really unleashes her inner Adrian Lyne.  It is hypnotizing, but ultimately vacuous, but in a way, this is part of the film’s larger point.  For a considerable time, their halting conversation is tediously forced and laboriously clunky.  However, when Clara starts revealing her inner demons, Nuit #1 breaks some fresh ground. 

In films like Elles and its ilk, viewers are constantly assured all varieties of kinky debauchery are really liberating for women.  Clara’s’ story is a sharp rebuke to such cinematic apologias for deviancy.  She forthrightly admits to being a sex-addict, using casual encounters to compensate for deep-seated emotional issues.  Yet, just like any addict, she requires more and more stimulus for shorter and shorter highs.  Ultimately, what she is doing is not glamorous.  It will be the death of her and she knows it.

To its credit, Nuit #1 does not ignore the reality of STDs either.  In fact, Clara has had her share in the past—a revelation Nikolaï did not want to hear.  Yet, neither he nor the audience should be so surprised, given what each has seen during their fateful night together.

As Clara, Catherine De Léan’s performance is viscerally compelling.  It is like watching someone literally bare their soul, which is not such a comfortable thing.  Unfortunately, it takes quite a while to reach the guts of the film.  Sure, it starts out with a bang, so to speak, but there are plenty of options for that sort of thing, if it is really what you’re looking for in a movie.  Essentially, Dimitri Storoge’s Nikolaï plays the helper role, getting De Léan to her big close-up, but frankly, it is hard to remember what he looks like a few days after screening Nuit.

Commendably, Émond’s script never takes the easy way out.  Still, the claustrophobic vibe and ever so slowly building early scenes will make even the hardiest of cineastes antsy.  Despite the slack pace, it is refreshing to see a film depict the hedonistic party lifestyle’s dark consequences.  Narrowly recommended for those fascinated by extreme morality tales (think Abel Ferrara instead of Zalman King) rather than the hipsters who will most likely gravitate to it, Nuit #1 opens today (7/27) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.