Sleep, Perchance to Dream: Lafleur’s Eccentric Portrait of One Hazy Summer
Quebecois filmmaker Stephane Lafleur’s third film, Tu dors Nicole (“You’re Sleeping Nicole) unfolds over one drifting summer through the life of a semi-irresponsible young woman. Lazy moments etched in beautiful black and white cinematography stylistically recalls a similar tale of directionless youth in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, though Lafleur and regular co-writer Valerie Beugrand-Champagne seem less invested in instilling their heroine with a similar sense of infectious charm.
Nicole (Juliane Cote) is left to look after her house while her parents are away over the summer. Though they’ve left explicit instructions, Nicole herself has nothing particularly pressing to do other than working a dead end job at a donation center and hang out with her best friend Veronique (Catherine St. Laurent). The young women seem resigned to depend on the other’s plans as they wander around town, talking about this and that. Slight irritation rears when Nicole’s older brother Remi (Marc-Andre Grondin) crashes their plans by showing up at the house to practice with his band. The bandmates have their own swelling dramas, with Pat (Simon Larouche) about to become a father, his departure seems imminent, much to Remi’s displeasure. Meanwhile, JF (Francis La Haye) seems to share a mutual attraction with Nicole, though he’s a good decade her senior.
The lush, intoxicating visuals uniquely tap into the nostalgic faucet of bygone, drifting summers, enhanced by a familiar youthful period when no one seems to have high expectations or a concise plan of action. As its title suggests, Nicole is in those in-between hazy days, refusing responsibility for her actions (or at least neglecting to register consequences of them beforehand).
Lafleur’s universe, as per usual, is speckled with odd details, here mostly envisioned in the form of a blonde haired teenager, Martin (Godefroy Reading, dubbed by another actor), whose body hasn’t caught up with his deepening voice. Not surprisingly, this is also the most sincere character within Nicole’s universe of superficialities, a boy as mature for his age as Nicole is stunted. Squabbles with her bestie and a lukewarm romance with her brother’s bandmate break through her drift, though the only thing Nicole knows for sure about herself is she won’t stand for anyone else telling her what to do. At first observed virtually aimless as both she and Veronique literally walk around the breezy countryside without any real plans, issues at work with regard to Nicole’s poor choices force her to regress to her old babysitting position.
Just as much as the striking cinematography recalls Frances Ha, this timeless visual scheme seems a burgeoning trend in Quebecois cinema, with Francois Delisle’s tragic Chorus (2015) also exuding a similar strategy. Julianne Cote is the standout in a cast including popular actor Marc-Andre Grondin (C.R.A.Z.Y.; Vic+Flo Saw a Bear), and she correctly conveys the rather reluctant emotions accompanying one’s realization concerning the imminence of having to take control of one’s life. Though her increasing insomnia sometimes feels like too much of a heavy handed metaphor, the film astutely conveys the embarrassment and mistakes necessary for such growth to eventually take place.