Film Review: Nuit #1

Desperately ambitious yet emptily windy, unconvincing two-hander which purports to say something serious about modern-day romantic anomie.
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This fairly grueling study of a one-night stand that seems to go on for a year, at least, centers around French-Canadian schoolteacher Clara (Catherine De Léan) and Nikolaï (Dimitri Storoge), who hook up in a club one night, have impulsive sex and then find it impossible to part, although everything points the way to a hasty, next morning split.

Writer-director Anne Émond obviously thinks she’s breaking edgy new ground with Nuit #1, exploring the kind of universal alienation easy promiscuity can breed, but in 1973 Jean Eustache made his marathon The Mother and the Whore, which still stands as the awesomely powerful, definitive statement on the subject. You know things are going to be self-indulgent in the worst way when Émond starts her film with an endless silent, slo-mo sequence of club patrons bouncing up and down to the unheard music. This is then followed, even more monotonously, by nothing but talk, talk, talk.

Émond puts a lot of “shocking” things into her characters’ mouths, as when she has Nikolai, who is initially disappointed to discover Clara trying to sneak out without a farewell in the morning, declare that “people who see each other naked should say a proper goodbye,” then rant in detail about her private parts. She, in turn, fires back with a blistering account of all the emotionless sex she indulges in, and compares him to a vulture. They fight, she tries to split in a fury, but like those characters in the infinitely more absorbing The Godfather, something always keeps dragging her back in.

De Léan and Storoge are an apt physical match for each other, being both dark, thin, weedy and seedy-looking from apparent sleep deprivation. They give their all to the script, but neither is able to inspire the kind of deep empathy which could transform this into something besides a particularly nasty game of verbal one-upmanship. I recently saw Claude Sautet’s The Things of Life (1970), which tackled complex love relationships with all the insight and true emotion this film lacks, and was struck, beyond their acting skill, by the sheer, moving physical presence of Michel Piccoli and especially Romy Schneider, who quite possibly was the most beautiful movie actress ever. It made me realize how dependent films often are on physical attractiveness, and wonder if Storoge and De Léan, who actually has a few moments in which she’s lovely, could have made a more convincing case for all this windiness if they’d been more alluring camera subjects. But I doubt if even the magnificently refulgent Schneider would have triumphed over such self-consciously striving-to-be-deep material. Émond ends the movie with a corny contrasting montage of Clara’s child students reciting poetry, like some kind of balm of innocence to soothe away all the blistering verbiage which has preceded it.