Clara (Catherine de Lean) and Nikolai (Dimitri Storoge) meet at a rave. Fueled by sweaty, buzzed energy, the pair return to Nikolai's apartment, where speedbumps like Nikolai's confession that he doesn't remember Clara's name and Clara's need to go to the bathroom in the middle aren't enough to derail their sexual chemistry. A few hours later, Clara, an insomniac, grabs her clothes and starts to head home. Much to her surprise, this sends Nikolai into a strange philosophical rage, and what might've been an unremarkable one-night stand turns into something much different.
There are three major building blocks in Nuit #1: the film's concept and execution, de Lean's performance, and Storoge's performance. Director / screenwriter Anne Emond (making her debut feature) probably hopes for these elements to go together, to dovetail and find meaning in their confluence, but they remain blatantly separate. The fact that the film concludes with the best one (de Leon) works in its favor, and may sway some people toward a positive outlook, but the film is still less than the sum of its parts, lacking crucial dramatic cohesion.
At the center of Nuit #1 is the fleeting nature of a one-night stand. Two people with their own lives interact in the most intimate way possible for one night, and then go back to those lives. "I know what you taste like," Nikolai says, "but I've never seen you eat anything." Despite walking out the door three different times, Clara and Nikolai stay together, sharing more intimate secrets with each other than they possibly could have imagined. After one heartfelt speech, Clara confides that not even her mother knows what she's just told Nikolai. Of the film's three pieces, the concept is contrived, allowing moments of emotional weakness or understanding that probably wouldn't occur in the real world, but understandably so, in ways that can be overlooked for a first-time filmmaker, and even accepted in light of a worthwhile emotional or thematic payoff.
The second element is Nikolai, who gets things rolling with his rant, including the comment about watching Clara eat. Nikolai is angry, in an authentic but incredibly obnoxious way, raging against the world's hypocrisy without having any particularly good answers himself. He openly insults Clara for trying to leave, for quoting passages from a book she doesn't understand, for not having any answers. Conveniently, when Nikolai doesn't have any answers, he doesn't turn much of that critical view on himself, which would be fine if it didn't feel like Emond had no interest in criticizing him either. He's honest about his own shortcomings, admitting that he's poor, lazy, in bad health, a procrastinator, unreliable, and so on, but there's a sense that his acknowledgement of these shortcomings somehow makes them slightly less deplorable. The film intentionally paints him as arrogant, but never successfully ties that arrogance into something deeper or worthy of sympathy. Nikolai is unlikable, and remains unlikable, filled with existential frustration on problems he's responsible for.
After Nikolai's portion of the film, Emond turns to de Lean, whose performance throughout the film has more life and spirit. Although Nikolai is written as a disillusioned person, Clara has her own sense of desperation and despair, yet de Lean has an on-screen presence that Storoge can't match. Her delivery is much more compelling, even if Emond's writing isn't necessarily much deeper. de Lean's big speech, delivered almost entirely in a single, simple close-up, is overwhelming in its depiction of Clara's loneliness and sadness. At the same time, Emond doesn't seem to know how these two people are related, if they're related, and what their relation means. As the film draws to a close, Emond flies past what would appear to be a logical finish, continuing into an additional scene that is somehow frustrating. Both moments are open-ended, but Emond's selection leaved the viewer with the sense that whatever she's going for isn't coming across.
Adopt Films' one-disc release of Nuit #1 swaps out the somewhat melancholy poster artwork (which might suggest a more staid drama) of de Lean in a rain-spattered bus shelter for a moodier shot of her doused in blood-red club lighting, which feels a bit more representative of the way the film goes about its moody business. The one-disc release is packed into a cheap Amaray case and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
As with too many foreign films (even now, well into the 21st century), Nuit #1 gets a somewhat woeful presentation on US DVD. The film's 1.33:1 aspect ratio is intended, so the film isn't cropped, but this is a pretty poor-looking image riddled with compression artifacts. During the opening club sequence, during which nearly everything on screen is in motion, the disc briefly hides its limitations, with only a bit of black crush to distract the viewer. Once the action moves to Nikolai's apartment, however, garish blocks and banding are visible constantly -- at times, de Lean's arm looks like it has vertical stripes on it. Sound is a French Dolby Digital 2.0 track that conveys what little there is to get across, but has a slightly muffled, compressed sound to it, lacking just a touch of crispness or clarity that would really make it feel like a current film. The final insult? English subtitles are, you guessed it, hard-coded into the picture, adding further compression artifacts to an already compromised image.
None. In fact, the disc is so bare, playing the film is the only menu option.
Nuit #1 is an unusual film, and it should not only be praised for its attempts to do something different, but also forgiven for some of its flaws, given Emond is a first-time filmmaker. Sadly, the film lacks even an imperfect payoff, building to an emotional crescendo, but failing to find a thematic one. Paired with a severely lacking technical presentation and no extras, this is one to skip.
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