A long night’s conversation
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, August 24, 2012
The gab session called “Nuit #1” initially appears as if it’s not going to feature much talk at all. Clara (Catherine de Lean) and Nikolai (Dimitri Storoge) meet at the sort of deafening dance club where conversation is simply impossible. Then they materialize at his crummy apartment, where their explicit, realistic sexual encounter proceeds with minimal chatter. Finally, Nikolai falls asleep; Clara takes a bath, gets dressed and slips out.
That’s when they start to speak. Nikolai wakes, follows Clara and berates her for her one-night-stand ethics. He believes that people who have just slept together should follow their physical dialogue with serious conversation.
And so they do, with the emphasis on “serious.” These Montreal 30-somethings may indulge in sex, drugs, drink and shared cigarettes, but they do so without great pleasure. Existential brooding is their true delight.
Nikolai, it turns out, was born in Ukraine and feels he ought to have more connection to that country. Also, he can’t take jobs seriously enough to hold one for very long. Clara has a job, a responsible one that will eventually feature in the film. But she’s an irresponsible person, and knows it.
The two temporary lovers sometimes argue and occasionally bond but mostly talk past each other. Their willingness to bare their souls, and their bodies, doesn’t make them open to other people. Despite the movie’s title, the odds seem to be against night No. 2.
French-Canadian writer-director Anne Emond might seem to be working in the tradition of French filmmakers such as Eric Rohmer, who’s known for movies in which a man and a woman sit in a room (or on a beach) and talk. But Rohmer endowed such tales with wit and narrative. “Nuit #1” is more like a filmed stage piece, a series of monologues in which the characters reveal their unhappiness without offering a hint that they might change.
In its favor, “Nuit #1” is candid, intense and well-performed. The elegant cinematography highlights the two bodies, often glistening with moisture, against dark interiors. This adds to the movie’s staginess, although the characters venture outside several times, where the harsh weather suggests that the source of French-Canadian despair may be largely climatological.
In Hollywood, the current trend is toward increased sexual bluntness, but honeyed with vast quantities of contrived sentiment. Compared with such fare, “Nuit #1” is a tonic. It’s not altogether believable, but neither is it entirely phony.
Contains explicit sex, nudity and profanity. In French with English subtitles.