Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: As August kicks off and the warmest season begins drawing to a close, we’re looking back at some of our favorite summer-themed movies.
For many people, especially those fresh out of school and circumscribed by money or geography, summer is an aimless time defined by temp gigs, tenuous relationships, and desperate attempts to relieve boredom. It’s understandable that so many filmmakers tend to liven up their summer films with external conflict or improbably high stakes, if only because it’s very difficult to dramatize the sheer tedium of youth. In Tu Dors Nicole, however, director Stéphane Lafleur depicts one of the most resonant, believable lazy summers of the past decade simply by focusing on idle moments too rarely captured on film. Much of Tu Dors Nicole features bored people trying to entertain themselves by any means necessary. The results are often riveting and beautiful.
Lafleur’s portrait of a dog-days summer is grounded by the friendship between Nicole (Julianne Côté) and Véronique (Catherine St-Laurent), two Québécois twentysomethings suffering from severe post-grad malaise. When Nicole receives her first credit card in the mail, she and Véronique impulsively buy tickets to Iceland in order to “do nothing, but somewhere else.” It’s an excuse to get out of the suburbs, particularly after Nicole’s brother, Rémi (Marc-André Grondin), turns their family home into a makeshift recording studio for his indie/garage rock band. Unfortunately, the plans are quickly scuttled by Véronique, who doesn’t live at home and can’t abruptly quit her job because of rent. A rift grows between the two old friends.
The Ghost World-esque narrative compels on its own merits because Lafleur and his stars are committed to indirectly communicating universal feelings, like jealousy and betrayal and the painful feeling of drifting apart from a close friend. There’s a brief blow-up, but most emotions are unspoken, conveyed instead by pointed glances or pregnant silences. Lafleur never makes it too explicit, but it’s clear that Nicole is the more insecure and socially defensive of the two, the Enid to Véronique’s Rebecca, and her friendship with Véronique has always sat on slightly unsteady ground. When Véronique hits it off with Rémi’s new drummer, JF (Francis La Haye), who also casually flirts with Nicole, lingering resentments are brought slightly closer to the surface.
Yet this plot never threatens to overwhelm Tu Dors Nicole, a film much more interested in conveying the weight of ennui. When she’s not at her job folding clothes in a secondhand store (where she frequently shoplifts), Nicole putters around her neighborhood, watching the neighbors and walking empty suburban streets at night because of her insomnia. A general half-awake feeling pervades Tu Dors Nicole, underscored by the film’s gorgeous black-and-white 35mm photography, which spotlights the gray areas Nicole moves through, and the fact that every character exists in some kind of liminal state. Nicole and Véronique face relatively uncertain futures, likely apart instead of together. Rémi knows his band will soon break up when Pat (Simon Larouche), his bassist, starts a family. In the film’s most overtly surrealist touch, a local neighborhood kid (Godefroy Reding) speaks with a sexy adult voice, which he believes gives him a shot at Nicole, his former babysitter. Though he exists in the film’s margins, he’s the literal manifestation of the shaky bridge between childhood and adulthood that Lafleur probes so well.
Like all great coming-of-age stories, Tu Dors Nicole focuses on a specific element of adolescence, mainly the terrible time when someone finally realizes that they’re in control of their own fate. Lafleur and Côté ignore all the traditional platitudes about “likability” and render Nicole unique but recognizable, someone who can be petulant one moment and generous the next. She is a typical college graduate in many ways, unsure of how to live out the rest of her life, and yet her behavior also suggests she’s completely lost in a deeper sense. (A telling moment: Nicole, sitting in the stands of an empty baseball field with Véronique and JF, is the only one who doesn’t react when suddenly informed that a ball is headed right for them.) As the English translation of the film’s title suggests, Tu Dors Nicole traces Nicole’s slow “awakening,” concluding on a reckless act that nevertheless implies she’s finally taking the reins of her own life, even though she can’t always predict the consequences.
Availability: Tu Dors Nicole is available to stream for free (with ads) on VUDU and on Kanopy (with a library card or university log-in). It can also be rented or purchased from Google Play, iTunes, and YouTube.