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Tu Dors Nicole [AFI Fest 2014]

Other // Unrated // November 11, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]

Review by Jeff Nelson | posted November 14, 2014 | E-mail the Author

With films such as Frances Ha, the independent genre has largely moved towards the need for the lead to grow up. While not entirely a "coming-of-age" film, they're about adults who have a child-like mentality. Often times, they have to hit "rock bottom" before starting to make their ascent to becoming a responsible adult. Writer/director Stéphane Lafleur and story writer Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne's Tu Dors Nicole takes a recognizable story idea, but with a unique twist that allows for one 22-year-old's odd summer to intrigue audiences. Are the changes made to the familiar structure enough to make this Canadian feature an impactful piece of cinema? Well, that's largely dependent upon how captivated you become by the story's lead character.

With her family out of town, 22-year-old Nicole (Julianne Côté) is looking forward to having the house to herself. She's excited to spend a peaceful summer with her best friend, Véronique (Catherine St-Laurent), but it's disturbed when her older brother, Rémi (Marc-André Grondin) shows up with his band to record his album. However, stress is placed upon Nicole's relationship with her best friend with the arrival of a new member of the band.

It doesn't take very long to see that Lafleur's screenplay is extremely subtle. There isn't a lot happening plot-wise, but there's a volcano ready to erupt underneath Nicole that will affect both her life, as well as those of everybody around her. The majority of the character development is held within our characters, making for an intriguing look at what is otherwise an incredibly familiar plot. Summer is generally seen as an exciting time for young adults, as some of the most fun that one can have during the year is at this point in time. However, Lafleur's characters all seem to be coated in dread, to varying degrees. When they're not at work, Nicole and Véronique spend most of their time watching TV, getting ice cream, and gossiping. There is a drastic change in tone when they begin to discuss going on a possible vacation together. Yet, all of these new ideas that enter their lives during this summer seem to further the emotional distance between these two best friends. Lafleur has successfully created a friendship that feels real, and we genuinely care about them sticking together.

The majority and the intensity of many of Nicole's issues are not directly expressed for quite some time. We follow her as she explores the neighborhood late at night due to her developed insomnia. Perhaps the most intriguing element of the film is how it manages to utilize metaphors in order to further express her emotional state. An example of this is the bicycle lock that she can never seem to open by herself, expressing her inability to move forward without somebody's aid. She's stuck in place, and she simply doesn't have the power to free herself. This gives way to the feature's sense of humor. It's largely situational, as she continues to find herself stuck in the same place with her best friend, who appears to be slipping away from her. Unlike pictures such as Frances Ha, the humor isn't quite as "on-the-nose." There are some chuckles to be found, but they are in fewer number than many similar films. The blend of drama and comedy is appropriate, and it entirely fits within the context of the film's goals.

Tu Dors Nicole can also be quite bizarre. She used to babysit ten-year-old Martin (Godefroy Reding), who has romantic feelings for her, and continues to pursue her. The weirdest thing about this kid is that he has the voice of a thirty-year-old man. This also contributes to the film's sense of humor, but needless to say, it's a bit creepy. While these aspects of the film work, I found myself less and less emotionally invested in Nicole. One of the major factors that usually makes similar features successful is its ability to keep us caring about the lead character. In Tu Dors Nicole, I had difficulty connecting with her. While we know what she's going through, the character feels somewhat held at a distance as the picture continues. By the time that we reach the third act, the film seems to run on a bit. Some closure is provided by the time the credits start rolling, but it still had me feeling somewhat underwhelmed by a character that progressively lost my interest throughout the duration of the feature.

The performances are just as subtle as the plot itself. Even so, Julianne Côté is entirely believable as Nicole. Even if we aren't entirely immersed in the character, she does a good job at portraying a role that simply cannot seem to move forward with her life. Catherine St-Laurent is successful in the role of Nicole's best friend, Véronique. Even when the two are simply gossiping and watching television, it simply feels as if we're watching two best friends from the perspective of a fly on the wall. There aren't necessarily any bad performances here, but there isn't very much to write home about. The actors are fitting, but they're just as subtle as the remainder of Lafleur's picture is.

Perhaps one of the biggest compliments that can be said of Tu Dors Nicole is its brilliant sense of visual style. Shot in black-and-white, the film has a suitably drab look that perfectly captures Nicole's emotional state. The film heavily utilizes framing in order to further create metaphors. By incorporating long shots, Tu Dors Nicole rarely places its lead in the center of the shot, as she is usually off-set to one side or the other. This is meant to symbolize the lack of balance in her life, as she struggles to keep everything from falling apart within the course of this one summer. Several musical cues also contribute to the picture's humor, as both the visuals and the audio aid in displaying her perspective. The visuals are truly magnificent here.

This is a subtle and gentle film about the final summer before truly having to enter the real world. From a glance, Tu Dors Nicole looks incredibly formulaic, although writer/director Stéphane Lafleur and story writer Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne incorporate some intriguing elements into the genre, making this a more interesting watch. However, somewhere along the way, Nicole completely lost me. Who was once an entirely captivating character has transformed into somebody who I can simply no longer connect with. By the time the credits begin to roll, the film feels so incredibly distant, but that doesn't change the feature's well-balanced sense of drama and comedy. Tu Dors Nicole is relatively charming with its subtle approach. Recommended.

Tu Dors Nicole played at AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi on November 11 and November 12.




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