I knew nothing of Anne Émond’s Nuit #1, besides its concept which intrigued me immediately. From the works of Bergman to Hitchcock’s Rope to Linklater’s Tape, works that involve very minimal locations and characters have always appealed to me, particularly when the film itself relies on long, drawn-out conversations to drive its story forward. Prior to Nuit #1, I’m not sure if I’ve seen a woman-directed film that focused so intently on such a small number of characters and settings – the closest that comes to mind is Jeanne Dielman, albeit over a slightly longer period of time. Nuit #1, as implied, takes place over the course of a single night. Specifically, it covers a one-night stand encounter between a man and a woman – known only as Nikolaï (Dimitri Storoge) and Clara (Catherine De Léan) – and the conversations that ensue after its consummation.
A little-known fact about myself is that I’m weirdly attracted to sex scenes in fictional film, and specifically to the implications of directing and filming sex scenes that are separated from the erotic environment usually reserved for pornographic movies. Nuit #1, after a brief introduction, begins with a sex scene, refusing to offer us the initial encounter that led to the two to leave their party to Nikolaï’s apartment. With Émond’s minimalist, realistic approach at filmmaking, all the little nuances of a one-night stand are captured effectively – from the awkward silence and stifled giggles while undressing to the clumsy movements of the sex itself. Spanning at about ten minutes in length, this scene is not nearly as titillating as one would think; it is, in fact, rather boring, helped by the thick filter of the characters’ intoxication that permeates through this scene’s entirety.
For the first time, though, I’ve realized that male-directed sex scenes are often aided by any number of extraneous effects – e.g. lighting, camera angles, music – to make such a commonplace activity seem involved and exciting. While it’s not necessarily true that female filmmakers don’t also engage in their own fantastical gazes, I’m reminded of Amy Heckerling’s direction of a sex scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, in which the female perspective is taken, the camera aimed directly at the ceiling and the encounter lasting only about a minute overall. Therefore, if we’re to assume that women-directed films offer alternatives to the male gaze, although Émond’s film is on a completely separate platform from Heckerling’s teen comedy, the function of her perspective on sex works along a similar wavelength. And just in case the audience were to experience any fraction of arousal from this scene, it’s interrupted halfway through by Clara’s urge to use the bathroom. Once they’ve both finished, the complete lack of any post-sex conversation for the remainder of the scene solidifies the fact that they are, above all, complete strangers potentially using sex as compensation for some sort of void in their lives.
As Clara tries to leave, Nikolaï insists that she returns; from there, he triggers off a series of monologues that would take up pretty much the rest of the film’s runtime. He immediately comes off as controlling and chauvinistic in his demands that she listen to what he has to say, but it becomes clear that he is, more than likely, seeking something in which to find meaning in his petty life. His monologue focuses primarily on self-loathing, which is a trait usually attributed to women usually portrayed as overly emotional. Here, however, there is pity for his situation, but there is also sympathy. Helped by his dingy apartment and the low-key lighting and sound that Émond gives to the setting, it soon becomes evident that Nuit #1 is meant to portray the qualms of an entire lost generation sheltered in shabby housing and living aimless lives. Nikolaï cares not about his lack of a sustainable job or his poor diet; instead, he lives his days through alcohol’s buzz and finds nameless, faceless women to sleep with.
As I stated before, these conversations take up pretty much the entire rest of the film. As such, I’m reminded of Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, which also relies heavily on intimate dialogues to set across its themes. In Nuit #1, the dialogue is much more intimate than the sexual encounter that preceded it, proving that often words can be much more seductive. While Nikolaï’s words were more catering towards the film’s overarching theme, Clara’s story – brilliantly performed by De Léan – offers a more heartbreaking portrayal of the uphill battles of women in modern society. Later in the film, she explains how she performs a conservative teacher job at an elementary school in the daytime, but leaps into an entirely new identity in the after hours, which includes copious drug usage and promiscuity. She describes herself as an “empty shell”, devoid of any stability and opting instead for detachment and multiple identities spread across multiple one-night stands. The pressures of the perfection sought with femininity have surely weighed themselves on her shoulders and its no surprise that she can see no way to go but down.
With Nuit #1, the simple perspectives of one man and one woman offer aimless experiences and cynical insights into this generation of youth, that which is both unfamiliar and all too familiar. Yet despite the hopelessness that limply hangs over these individuals, the intimacy that they fail to seek is reciprocated by the gentle gaze of the director. It’s a very candid portrait with dirty details that Émond refuses to shy away from, and I’m glad she doesn’t. It does move at a snail’s pace, so I’d hesitate before I’d recommend this to just about anyone. At the same time, however, it works terrifically as a compelling chamber drama, so fans of those types looking for distinct perspectives on a lost generation will be pleased.