Published Oct 16, 2014In Stéphane Lafleur's latest cinematic fever dream, Tu dors Nicole ("You're sleeping, Nicole"), a scrawny, pre-pubescent boy — whom the titular 20-something used to babysit — repeatedly tries to woo his former caregiver with his deep, booming baritone. He also imparts wisdom to the aimless object of his affection ("You know, life really flies by, Nicole") and fronts her cash to feed her appetite for soft-serve ice cream.
These are the wackiest in a handful of absurdist flourishes we've come to expect (and relish) from Lafleur, also a skilled editor (Monsieur Lazhar, The Auction) and acclaimed folk musician (frontman for Avec pas d'casque, long-listed for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize). As was the case with Chantal, the hotel receptionist from his debut feature Continental, A Film Without Guns who leaves messages on her own voicemail, Lafleur excels at subtly offbeat humour that never makes a mockery of his lonely characters or their mundane grind, but pokes fun at the surreal nature of the banal, the everyday.
In Tu dors Nicole, Lafleur's 22-year-old, freshly graduated protagonist (Julianne Côté) is enjoying one last carefree summer at her vacated family home before she faces the totally unappealing prospect of adult responsibility. Prone to frequent hallucinations and insomnia, this suburban dreamer dawdles away the scorching days and nights in a constant state of lucid dreaming — moping around the pool, planning trips to Iceland and playing mini-putt with her best friend, Véronique (Catherine St-Laurent). But when her older bro (Marc-André Grondin) crashes the pad to record an album with his bandmates, countless hours of lethargic leisure are substituted for much existential angst about the uncertainties of grown-up life. She's dangling dangerously over the precipice of adulthood, doing her best to hit the brakes hard and fast to drag out her heedless teenage ways.
Cinematographer and frequent Lafleur collaborator Sara Mishara shoots the picture in beaming 35mm black and white, composing sublimely static, monochromatic tableaux that expand the medium's possibilities as far as sweat-trickling heat waves and languid summertime hallucinations go. Côté is superb as the apathetic Nicole, a role that required much restraint, a wishy-washy attitude and a slouched-over posture. The ethereal musical interludes are entirely in keeping with Nicole's frequent escapades into altered states.
Tu dors Nicole is Lafleur at his very best: distilling his undemonstrative characters' uneventful lives with understated tension, a minimalist aesthetic, a great deal of affection and a playful grasp of the absurd. If you're in the mood for a meditative slice of Quebec New Wave, it doesn't get any better than this.