The title of writer/director Stéphane Lafleur’s sleepily incisive “Tu Dors Nicole” translates in English to “You’re Sleeping Nicole” which is a late film comment made to our titular protagonist (Julianne Côté) but hangs over the entire film nonetheless. She always feels asleep, even when she’s awake, emblemized in the sterling opening shot that finds Nicole in some nameless guy’s room after a one night stand, shot like a hazy dream in the film’s pristine 35mm black & white, with a tall photograph of a waterfall on the nightstand, the sound of its flow echoing throughout the room, as if Nicole is standing right before it. When the guy asks if he can call her again she asks in all earnestness “What for?” What for indeed.
She’s just graduated college and we all know how that goes, both in real life and at the movies. It’s not merely that it’s not easy, but that you feel lazy, not particularly ready to engage with life, as the wise elders call it, because why would you when you have so, so, so much of it still to live? “You’re still young, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you,” the walking fortune cookies will say before doubling back twenty-two seconds later and wondering “So what are you going to do with the rest of your life?” That’s Nicole; caught between that ancient tug of war and content to let the ropes fall away while housesitting for her parents in Quebec over the summer with her best friend, Véronique (Catherine St-Laurent). Not long after, however, her brother Rémi (Marc-André Grondin) turns up with his band, transforming the house into a makeshift recording studio as the omnipresent hum of guitar, bass and drums replaces the whisper of wind in the trees and the relaxing chirping of birds as her summer soundtrack. Her brother’s perfectionism stands in contrast to her aimlessness.
The summer dawdles forward. Teensy dramas arise, whether issues at work, disagreements with her best friend or a romantic affectation for her brother’s band’s drummer, J.F. (Francis La Haye). Another movie might have pressed this last one much more, making it some sort of threshold that Nicole must cross in order to find out who she is, or some such, but Lafleur’s film thankfully never goes all in for “answers”, because “Tu Dors Nicole” knows answers at that age all fill in the blank questions are meant to have no answers. And so instead Nicole and J.F. dance around the idea, such as in a wistful and mischievous late night sequence inside a bedroom where their mutual flirtation hangs in the air, Rémi’s guitar provides the melodious soundtrack through the walls, before it dissolves like mist.
While coming-of-age films are often reliant on voiceovers to explain its main character’s headspace or a quest the main character must complete in order to achieve the key to the front door of adulthood, “Tu Dors Nicole” is refreshingly absent either of these. Yes, Nicole and Véronique book a trip to Iceland, on a credit card that magically appears to the lilting sounds of harp, but that is talked about theoretically – even with the tickets – more than tangentially. And with no inner monologues whatsoever, we are left to wonder about Nicole, much like Nicole is left wonder about herself, stricken with insomnia wandering the eerily empty town in the middle of the night, eerie passages that impeccably capture the sensation of being you, when every night feels like forever, like the sun will never rise again.
On one after-hours stroll she passes a house and sees an old man son a step-ladder dusting a ceiling fan. This, you can practically feel exuding from Nicole’s furrowed brow, is the adulthood of which everyone speaks? Who in their right mind is any hurry to get there? That paradox is underscored in the form of Martin (Godefroy Reding), a pre-teen whom Nicole once babysat who the film, in a bit of heightened delirium (?), outfits with a suave adult voice, comically illustrating his desperation to grow up while Nicole, of course, merely wishes she could stave off adulthood forever and ever. And it’s somewhere there in the middle where “Tu Dors Nicole” lurks, never completely committing to the idea of adulthood’s greener pastures, never totally surrounding adolescent desire to just let existence drift by, its unresolved issues building and building until it finally erupts in a metaphorical conclusion that wonderfully, turbulently lets it all just figuratively hang in the Quebec sky, as if perpetually suspended rather than eventually resolved, which the older I get the more I begin to suspect is less an affliction of youthful malaise than of life in general.