Anne Émond’s endlessly fascinating Nuit #1 may seem more suited to a film theory class than your local movie theater — it begs for dissection, discussion, and debate in a way that only a classroom full of eager film students could best provide — but it’s nonetheless one of the more unique films to come my way in quite some time. At the crux of the film’s narrative is a deep study of the “one night stand,” the reasons why we seem to use these encounters as a way to emotionally refuel or fulfill ourselves, and the events that transpire after the passionate love-making comes to an end and the reality of the situation slowly settles in. The film’s French title “Nuit #1” translates to “Night One” in English, and it’s about the most simplistic yet perfect title to ascribe to a story as ordinary and common as this one. I’ll admit, the “#1” portion of the title had me surmising the possibility that this film was a small cog in a larger wheel, but that’s not the case. Nuit #1‘s plot begins and ends as predictably and tragically as you’d expect, but it’s the in-between portions that mark this film as one of indelible value. Sitting there and watching Émond’s “long night” play out, I couldn’t help but cherish the meaty moments of reflection and human discovery.
The film’s premise is simple enough: Nikolai and Clara first meet at a rave, come back to Nikolai’s apartment, and make the most honestly (albeit highly graphic) photographed love that I’ve seen in non-snuff cinema, potentially ever. Well, that’s not entirely true — the experimental films of the 1970s were prone to showcasing two actors having actual sex without any pornographic intent behind them. Nuit #1‘s hyperreal display of love-making would shatter the world of any conservatively inclined viewer, but that return to form — rather, an homage to the sexually liberating films of 70’s feminist avante-garde filmmakers such as Laura Mulvey and Chantal Akerman — is essential to a story like this where the expunging of one’s pent up sexual urges must be seen at its most explicit and real so that it can be effectively contrasted with the calm aftermath, post-coitus. I kid you not when I say the sex-scene takes up a full fourth of the film’s running time, and it’s long duration, uncomfortable as it may be for some, paves Anne Émond as one of the bravest directors out there who isn’t afraid to prolong a risqué scenario in order to preserve the integrity of human interaction.
Rather than being satisfied by a visually assertive beginning, Émond shoots to even greater heights with her film by stripping away the regularities of common cinema in the following segments. We see Clara wake up before Nikolai and expect her to go on with her life as though nothing has changed, her next wild, late-night adventure just around the corner for us to witness. As she’s walking down the steps, Nikolai calls after her to come back to give a proper farewell. Nikolai can’t fathom that their one sexual encounter is all that will ever be between he and Clara, and at the very least he wants a goodbye that doesn’t include Clara slipping out while he’s sound asleep. He’s angered that two people who have seen each other at their most physically vulnerable could suddenly separate forever without a parting word or final conversation. Nikolai then begins one of many elongated yet captivating monologues Nuit #1 has to offer, keeping both characters firmly planted into the domestic space that is Nikolai’s squalid apartment.
Subsequently, Nuit #1 plays out in small chapters where both Nikolai and Clara get a chance to deliver a monologue while the other merely listens. The characters’ speeches are meant to unravel their identities, but they also serve as a means to critique the opposite gender while reflecting on their own inadequacies. Nikolai is a ne’er-do-well who has no means of income to support himself, can never finish what he sets out to do for the day, and is slowly emaciating himself to the point of invisibility. On the other side, Clara is a lot more “together” than we originally imagined, but has a masochistic nature about her that seems to come from being emotionally unfulfilled in her day-to-day life. The pair, by bringing forth the truth about themselves, not only present their own scary realities to the forefront, but bring to light the many fears we all have in our ordinary lives that we’d much rather keep hidden. Both Nikolai and Clara are burdened by their guilt in failing to meet societal gender expectations. Nikolai feels he hasn’t “done something” with his life, appearing defeated and emasculated because of his lack of “machismo” assertiveness. Clara, meanwhile, lives a double life where her true sexually liberated self comes out at night, a 180° turn from her well-mannered, grade-school teacher profession during the day. Clara’s anxiety stems from the societal belief that a “properly behaved woman” cannot be sexually experimental or have multiple sex partners; she must be restricted to a monogamous, post-marriage sexual lifestyle. We are led to believe that Clara’s sexual aggression at night is a response to her repressed emotions during the day, making her a truly tragic character who’s unable to find a happy and comfortable medium to exist in.
While Clara’s back story has a bit more depth to it than Nikolai’s, more than once I felt that Catherine de Léan — the actress who plays Clara — didn’t give as much commitment to this character as she could have. Yes, I realize she won the 2012 Genie Award for “Best Actress” in this film, but I wasn’t wholly convinced by her emotion when delivering Clara’s monologues and anecdotes, and I wish she had pushed just a little further in this regard. Dimitri Storoge, who plays Nikolai, is able make the audience look past the character’s initial creepiness and view him as a sympathetic person that they could — although hard to admit — relate to. However, both actors have to be commended for keeping such focus during their long scenes. Each monologue segment is between ten and fifteen minutes, and there is really no room for the actors to break character lest they risk anchoring down Émond’s beautifully written dialogue. Anne Émond writes in a way that mirrors the somewhat loose slang of our generation, but never neglects to intellectualize both the words and concepts she presents to us onscreen. For scenes to stretch in such a lengthy fashion, strong and engaging writing is essential, and I’m pleased to report that Anne knows exactly how to reel us in just when we think we can take no more. There are some scenes that perhaps go on longer than they should, and certainly wouldn’t lose impact if they were cut down, but this is Émond’s first feature film so it’s hard to really condemn a young and determined new director for going too far. After all, that’s part of the learning process when making your first feature film, and I imagine Émond will value the power of editing as her career continues to escalate.
As a debut film, the level of originality in Nuit #1 is astounding. While there are technical imperfections, Émond’s original screenplay revolutionizes the term “original.” She doesn’t merely borrow former conventions as a guideline for her story to unfold — she smashes them down and unleashes her own independent voice that harkens back to 70’s experimental cinema. Unlike those filmmakers, however, Émond knows how to captivate her audience as though they were watching mainstream cinema. A disappointing ending mars an overall admirable film, but it’s a point of contention that I believe Émond can fix on a future project. I believe she got so involved in the juiciest bits of her monologue-heavy script that Nuit #1‘s ending plays out a bit contrived, disconnected from all we had seen before. Without spoiling the ending for anyone, let’s just say that it might have been best for Émond to cut to black after reaching the pinnacle of her elaborately wonderful screenplay. That she chooses to take one unnecessary step forward by trying to close the film in a poetic manner instead of an authentic one — which was the tone of the film prior to its conclusion — slightly diminishes the magic that came before, but not by much. All in all, Nuit #1 presents sexuality, humanity, and gender anxiety at its most open and vulnerable. Canadian filmmaker Anne Émond, 30, demonstrates how necessary it is for the industry to continue embracing young filmmakers, how necessary it is for their genre deconstructionism to take root and flourish.
Nuit #1 opens today, July 27th, in New York City, and will begin its national dispersal after its Los Angeles premiere on August 10th. Please check it out as soon as it hits your local art house theater!
Here is a trailer of the film to get everyone excited for its release: