Existential Indulgence

Film review of Anne Emond’s “Nuit #1” / “Night #1” (Canada, 2012)

Clara, on walking home at 5AM after a one-night stand: “I look at the joggers and think, ‘I’m not like you. I just had sex with a stranger.'”

Clara and Nikolai meet at a rave. Like animals separated from the pack, they can smell the loneliness and despair on one another’s flesh, and the overwhelming force of the desire to have a connection draws them together. They return to Nikolai’s apartment for a hungry sexual experience that begins with Nikolai’s request for Clara’s name and concludes with an awkward hesitancy to cuddle… because, after all, they are strangers.

But this is no typical one-night stand. When Clara, unable to sleep, sneaks out of Nikolai’s apartment, Nikolai awakes and chases after her, ushering her back inside. He then catapults into a tirade about the modern state of relationships, chiding Clara for being a modern woman (“They’re just like men!”) and setting the stage for what will become a very long night of understandings, misunderstandings, emotional monologues, harrowing confessions, cigarette smoking, and ultimately a meaningful connection.

Clara and Nikolai are, by normalizing societal standards, two very broken people. Clara has sex with a new man–sometimes multiple new men, sometimes at once–every weekend, does copious amounts of drugs, confesses to being “completely empty inside,” and is self-loathing to the utmost degree. Nikolai, in turn, cannot hold down a single job, has fruitless ambitions of becoming the next great artist, is self-sabotaging, irreverent, and mistreats women without a flinch (though, to be fair, he claims he’s never once hit a woman). In brief, the characters are invariably fault-ridden. Writer/director Anne Emond seems to have taken Clara and Nikolai to a level of caricature in order to illuminate certain aspects of the modern condition. Of every ten statements about themselves that Clara or Nikolai make, you’ll be able to relate to one. Though nine of them may alienate you and cause you to judge Clara or Nikolai harshly, that outstanding one statement will chill you to the bone. Thus, despite some of their arguably unlikeable or unsympathetic characteristics, there are parts of Clara and Nikolai that will resonate with you. This will facilitate a distressing kind of self-reflection that, if anything, makes the viewing of Nuit #1 ultimately worthwhile.

On the surface, Nuit #1 is a study of a one-night stand. Anne Emond’s intentions, however, are an existential exploration of interpersonal connection, the modern condition, and the universal search for meaning. Whether or not she achieves this fully is up for debate. The film comes together in pieces rather than as a comprehensive work in and of itself. The pieces: the rare but momentous points of connection between you and Clara or Nikolai, the inconsistently realistic poetic monologues, the exaggerated but heartfelt depiction of two lost souls. Slightly undermining these strong moments is a pervasive sense of inconsistency. For example, Emond plays with gender role reversal at the beginning (Clara leaves the apartment in the middle of the night without saying goodbye; Nikolai becomes emotionally upset), but soon reverts to painful stereotypes (Nikolai talks about having callously left a girl after an abortion; Nikolai has testosterone-motivated anger issues; Clara has an emotional breakdown and is the only one of the two who does any sobbing; Clara is forgiving of Nikolai’s glaring, unrelenting red flags, taking on all of Nikolai’s burdens before eventually unloading her own). In the same vein, the existential undertones of the film straddle a thin line between insightful and indulgent. Clara and Nikolai, while both capable of articulating pertinent existential dilemmas, also seem to have a notable lack of agency and tend toward self-victimization, often at the expense of others. They view their respective existential crises from a fatalistic vantage point, which detracts from the film’s statements. This is somewhat forgivable, though, because the film’s conclusion leaves us with a sense that connection is possible with the Other: Clara and Nikolai, though they can never understand one another fully, have something real together, and they’re probably going to fight to keep it alive.

“You’re a little bit crazy,” Nikolai initially says to Clara, “but it’s not at all uninteresting.” This, ultimately, is how Nuit #1 plays: a little bit crazy (and a lot indulgent), but not at all uninteresting.

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2 Comments

Filed under Foreign Films

2 responses to “Existential Indulgence

  1. Whalen

    Wonderful review, but I really think the true standout, crucial scene was when the girl sitting in front of us spilled her entire soda all over the floor of the theater. The agony and the ecstasy of seeing a violent, sexual movie by yourself at the Angelika.

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