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CANNES – A 22-year-old French-Canadian gal tries to get through a sweltering — if shot in a very cool black-and-white — summer in Tu dors Nicole, the third idiosyncratic directorial outing of Quebec editor Stephane Lafleur.
As in his first two features, Continental, a Film Without Guns and Familiar Ground, quite a few strange things happen over the course of Tu dors Nicole and perhaps none quite as odd as the sight of a platinum-blond, elfin-featured scrawny kid with the voice of an adult male who’s openly and hopelessly in love with the protagonist. But thankfully, there’s a method to the madness again here, and Lafleur delivers an affecting, funny and eccentric — in the best sense of the word — meditation on that in-between state that people in their early twenties find themselves, as they are technically old enough to participate fully in all of life’s activities but they still lack the experience to know what they really want or what’s really good for them. All they’re waiting for is to be kissed awake by reality and real life (the title means “You’re Sleeping, Nicole”).
The fact this Directors’ Fortnight selection was shot on velvety, black-and-white 35mm stock should further help entice festivals to program the film, though it might also be the one thing that gives theatrical distributors pause, unless they find a way to market the film as the French-Canadian answer to something like Frances Ha.
The parents of Nicole (Julianne Cote) have left plentiful instructions to ensure that their daughter — who’s technically been an adult for a few years already — knows how to take care of the house in their absence over the summer. Nicole’s not particularly well-defined plan is to mainly hang out with her best friend, Veronique (Catherine St-Laurent), at the house and in the swimming pool in the garden, though things quickly turn into a quintet when Nicole’s brother, Remi (Marc-Andre Grondin), a decade her senior, shows up and decides to use the paternal home as the place to record some songs with his two bandmates: Pat (Simon Larouche), who’s about to become a father, and JF (Francis La Haye), whose insouciant hipster vibe Nicole could possibly warm to.
Lafleur, who also wrote the screenplay, underlines that Nicole doesn’t really know what she wants and has no desire to commit to anything from the very first sequence, in which the protagonist slinks out of the bed of a stranger in the middle of the night. He wakes up and asks her, sleepyheaded, when he’ll see her again. “What for?” she wants to know. “For the fun of it,” he replies. “This was fun,” she says, and is out the door and will never see him again.
Indeed, as the summer days pass, the scenes in which Nicole seems not malcontent but also rather aimless accumulate, such as when she’s walking in the countryside with Veronique and they realize that neither of them knows where they’re going, they were just following each other. One thing she doesn’t like: Being told what to do. In a good example of how Lafleur constantly combines quirky humor with revealing character moments, there’s a scene in which an elderly co-worker at the second-hand store Nicole occasionally works at tells her not to stand too close to the microwave because it might affect her fertility. Nicole’s effective, entirely silent answer? Move two steps closer.
Nicole used to babysit Martin (played by Godefroy Reding but with the voice of Alexis Lefebvre) and the precocious boy, who’s now 10, is very open about how much he feels attracted to the protagonist. Though the tiny, wiry blond boy with the big voice and even bigger feelings may initially strike audiences as some quirky mannerism from the director or simply a weird freak, Lafleur knows just when to introduce the character — after the main themes of the film have been established — and also gives him just enough scenes so that it’s clear that Martin is an oddball negative image of Nicole, someone who’s very mature for his age and knows exactly what he wants.
His somewhat uncanny presence, in the end, seems to simply confirm that Nicole’s aimlessness, at her age, is entirely natural. And of course, Lafleur then throws some fundamental learning experiences at Nicole, transforming the fall-out with Veronique or the mess she gets herself in at the second-hand store into character-building opportunities, suggesting that each person needs to make her or his own mistakes in order to grow and become a more discerning adult.
Cote (The Fight) is recognizably clueless but also touching as the young woman who’s drifting through what will be one of her last careless summers and seems to be slowly waking up to that realization, as the character’s insomnia gets worse as the film progresses. Opposite her, both Grondin (with the same shaved head as in Vic + Flo Saw a Bear) and St-Laurent, a dancer in her first major role, manage the tricky balance between offering able support without taking away anything from the film’s focus on the title character.
Lafleur and Sara Mishara, the director’s talented regular cinematographer, know that the choice of black-and-white 35mm stock itself is enough to lend the characters’ struggles a sense of timelessness and thus they opt for a relatively straightforward mise-and-scene and framing that allows audiences to simply observe the characters. Editing, as could be expected seen Lafleur’s day job, is extremely precise, even if the characters in the scenes are often intentionally somewhat directionless.
In Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)
Production company: micro_scope
Cast: Julianne Cote, Catherine St-Laurent, Marc-Andre Grondin, Francis La Haye, Simon Larouche, Godefroy Reding, Alexis Lefebvre, Fanny Malette
Writer-Director: Stephane Lafleur
Producers: Luc Dery, Kim McCraw
Director of photography: Sara Mishara
Production designer: Andre-Line Beauparlant
Music: Remy Nadeau-Aubin, Organ Mood
Costume designer: Sophie Lefebvre
Editor: Sophie Leblond
No rating, 93 minutes
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