The titular character of Tu Dors Nicole is a girl cut in two, as evidenced by director Stéphane Lafleur’s compositions, with Nicole (Julianne Côté) often severed by the margins of the frame. She’s a wayward twentysomething, caught between her tenuous desires for independence and a more forceful reluctance to forgo the sweet pangs of juvenilia. Lafleur has a percipient eye for irrigating these dilemmas without overtly sentimentalizing them, especially as the film flirts with diagnosing Nicole’s desolation as mental illness, manifest through insomnia and habitual forms of self-sabotage.
Nicole can’t sleep, but she needs to wake up. Such a possibly simple, even grating metaphor morphs into a feature-length expression of squandered privilege through Lafleur’s prodding but sensitive orientation to the perennial malaise that accompanies inveterate depression. The summer sun beats down on a large Québécois home, which affords lots of space to roam for Nicole, her friend Véronique (Catherine St-Laurent), and her brother’s bandmates, including JF (Francis La Haye), who Nicole harbors a crush on. Importantly, the parents are away for the season, which licenses widespread entropy among the group, as they perpetually lounge either in the expansive backyard or play music simply as a means to kill time. Lafleur stages numerous instances of Nicole’s dwindling motivations, perhaps best demonstrated in the film’s opening scene, as she rises from bed, scratches her ass, and chalks up her sex from the previous night to a one night stand, “for fun.”
Her declaration progressively proves to be less an emphatic assertion of sexual liberty than a wavering foray in the aftermath of having been dumped following high school graduation, in which she nearly “drank herself into a coma.” Lafleur uses this revelation to seriously assess Nicole’s psychological fragility, which includes stealing clothes from the charity where she works. When called out by her boss, Nicole pleads ignorance, thinking that since the clothes were donated, she could take them as she pleased. Likewise, when Nicole receives a credit card in the mail, she views it as an invitation to repudiate all impending responsibility, further crippled by frivolous expenditures on ice cream and miniature golf.
Lafleur denies Nicole the angsty treatments given similar characters in films like The Graduate and Frances Ha by refusing to saturate the film with an undergirding sense of charm, where the issues being faced are merely points of spasmodic uncertainty that will erode over time. Absent are cutesy soundtrack cues and instances of klutzy fuck-ups. Instead, Lafleur visualizes Nicole’s pain through her own miniature status in relation to the surrounds, including an early pan across the backyard that finds Nicole enmeshed within a seeming jungle of greenery and vegetation. Lafleur consistently shoots from a distance, affording the characters little prominence within the frame. Moreover, when a fight with Véronique results in the pair exchanging fuck-yous, the scene ends with Nicole staring up at an apartment building, a meager blip within the film’s painterly mise-en-scène.
Tu Dors Nicole is peppered with consequential details that steadily reveal Lafleur’s assured screenplay, co-written with Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne, which includes Nicole’s assertion that she’s a “social smoker” and her proclivity for sewing “cuffs,” which attains a double valence through the film’s imprisoning treatment of various spaces. Incapable of abstaining from indulgences, Nicole engages them sporadically and seeks to repair damaged items rather than starting anew. These would be hollow symbols were Lafleur’s treatment of Nicole benignant or too preciously asserting her struggles for purposes of affability. Instead, the film makes a more direct allusion to Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli through an ending metaphor that likens Nicole’s trials to a volcanic geyser, impossibly realized within the film’s suburban setting. Nicole is not pleading to the heavens for salvation, but her final action is certainly one of resolve, as she ambiguously grins into the distance, enacting a momentary elision of doubt, but with the sophistication of a fiery temper tantrum.