Tu Dors, Nicole is a captivating film about a banal life

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Photo courtesy of micro_scope.

Summer. The temperature is hot. Nicole awakes from a one-night stand. She is about 20.  The parents go away. The house is left to her and her brother. He practices with his band in the house. Nicole works at a thrift store. She gets a credit card. She talks to her friend. The band practices. Nicole works at the thrift store. She talks to her friend and the band.

The drummer sets the repetitive beat. Boom. Boom. Boom. The girl walks aimlessly across a field. Pat. Pat. Pat. While eating an ice cream, she says to her friend, “Is this going to be our entire summer? We can do whatever we want. We can go wherever.” The girl is not a kid; the girl is not an adult; the girl is. . .

After graduating from high school, many are still caught in the middle: they are at adult age and look the part, but internally they are closer to being kids. They continue to live at home while working for close to minimum wage. They have no idea what they want to do with their lives. So they daydream, dream, daydream. Tu Dors, Nicole (You’re Sleeping, Nicole), a Québécois film, is about an ensemble of young adults that spend their waking lives sleeping — doing nothing. Nothing at all.

Photo courtesy of micro_scope.
Photo courtesy of micro_scope.

This is a bizarre and surreal film, so grounded in the perspective of its wandering twentysomething protagonist that its redundancies are emotive and its lack of narrative structure endearing. Must a film that tries to realistically capture the banality of someone’s life be banal itself? Tu Dors, Nicole would beg to differ.

The director, Stéphane Lafleur, has managed to make a film firmly cemented in the aimlessness of his characters, yet it remains quirky and light on its feet. Tu Dors, Nicole is heartbreakingly realistic because of a subtle performance by Julianne Côté and chillingly atmospheric black and white cinematography, which hints at the character’s subjective experience.

It is equal parts real and surreal, but the reason it works is because it’s always reflecting something about the characters, whether internal or external. We don’t doze off, because Lafleur finds different ways to evoke the loneliness his characters feel, instead of only having one boring tone.

One way he does so is through the symbols of childhood that surround Nicole: she plays cowboys and Indians, throws a giant stuffed bear into the trash, rides a bike everywhere she goes, and even plays on a playground.

More intriguing is the presence of a young boy that Nicole babysits, who has the voice of a man. He is mature and immature: a paradox reflected in Nicole. Like her, the boy spends his life wanting to be an adult. Nicole is stuck in her childish ways yet bound to them, even if they no longer bring her any joy.

Nicole holds onto a trip to Iceland (paid by her credit card) for hope. When asked by a friend what she will do there, she says the same thing she does here: nothing. But at least Nicole will be doing nothing somewhere else. She needs to break free from the monotony. Break the drums and stop the repetitive beat. Boom. Boom. B. . .

When Nicole leaves behind her childish ways, the ellipses will be erased, the repetitiveness of her life will be broken, and the black and white world will fade to colour. The escape to Iceland will also happen within herself. Nicole will become an adult.

Previously published in The Tri-Cities Now.