Nuit #1 – A film from Québec and a talk with director Anne Émond | IFFR 2012


Which role can or should this text about Nuit #1 play, so long after the 41st International Film Festival Rotterdam?

Being a critic, distributor, programmer, or just any person dealing with film and its reception, even being someone sitting in the audience: It is important to never stop asking about one’s own influence on cinematic culture, starting with the purchase of a ticket. Why cinematic culture? Because cinema is never only about what’s going on on the screen, but also about what happens in front of it, around the cinema, in the media and at the film markets of festivals. It is about the question why some films are noticed and others are not, and it is through that cinema asks the question about the kind of culture we live in and the kind of people we are. Cinema and the whole industry around it is not only economy, it is policy, psychology, philosophy. Through its vast connections to the whole cultural industry it gives us a picture of the mechanics of our present world. This is why cinema is one of the most relevant forms of art these days and why every sentence to be written about it should seek to promote and protect what might otherwise be overseen or forgotten. What to promote and protect and how to express oneself to do so are questions of their own. In this case asked in English, so inspiring Canadian filmmaker Anne Émond can understand and answer if she likes to.

In a talk about her feature length debut Nuit #1 during the International Film Festival Rotterdam we asked ourselves, whether it makes sense to summarize the present generation of young filmmakers from Québec under the term “Nouvelle Vague Québéquoise“ (a term that popped up to me in an article and seemed to have appeared to Anne Émond on several occasions before). This is a question that touches by all means the aspects mentioned above. Why use it? For what purpose? Relying on what? Not every writer mentioning this seems to have linked the term itself to a purpose but rather to have simply quoted it. Which is tempting, yes. But what is a term without meaning? And what are we talking about anyway? In the French speaking part of Canada several debut directors like Anne Émond and for example the even younger Xavier Dolan are drawing much attention on how marvelously they manage to create fresh, stylish, original and thoughtful cinema. This has been a phenomenon of the very recent past. So why already use mechanisms to historicize what’s going on?

Anne Émond (AE): [...]It’s funny, because this nouvelle vague thing it’s not from us. […] It comes from the others and a lot of journalists around the world – even in Korea, I was really surprised. They spoke to me about this ‘Nouvelle Vague’ in Québec and I was just like: ‘Wow, really?’. Probably we don’t feel like that. I really love the films, well, not all of them. But I’m really proud […] I still don’t know if there is a connection between those films, though. I think time will tell, because it is too soon. When I do a film, I’m alone in front of my computer and I don’t think about my friends doing their movies. We all try to be honest. There is something happening and there are pretty good movies this year. There are I think five first feature films from Montreal, which is a lot. And they are good, really good, and they are successful everywhere.

NEGATIV: Do you think it can be positive to have a term to summarize, to create an interest in what’s going on?

AE: Of course, of course. If people go to those movies and are interested, it makes it of course easier for us to make other films. For me it is just a good thing. But it’s all you critics, it’s the other side of the line. We filmmakers don’t think about that. I’m just thinking about my next movie and about seeing good films. I don’t know how to call it and what it is. In a way I say that, but it’s really interesting. I hope that someone somewhere, in Québec or around the world, will write about it and will analyze it, if there is something to analyze. Because I would be really curious to read it.

What does summarizing present cinema from Québec in that way mean? To start using a term for a certain body of films that the filmmakers themselves didn’t initiate? To assume a common attitude amongst them and correlations between them that haven’t been verified? Maybe, in the worst case, to generalize their individual viewpoints and reduce them to their cultural, political context and some aesthetic or narrative principles? These sound horribly academic. And probably all of them are the case. If theory comes first, it always dictates our views. So why not take a step back and first see what is there before getting to foregone conclusions? Bringing in some catchy titles is always fun of course, readers and audiences like it, they recognize it, that’s at least a start: While filmmakers focus on what they are doing and on developing their personal expression, there are and have always been writers, programmers or academics on the „other side of the line“, as Émond puts it, trying to describe and link, to explore and present their cinema in ways that make it more accessible for audiences. Basically, this approach serves a more widespread acknowledgement, especially for of directors amongst a group that receive less attention for their works. Inventing a term for description, as it seems to be happening now, might in that context have the effect that others following up on it and starting to use it. Problematic is the fact that people tend to imitate and comfortably accept rather than to investigate. If a new thing pops up, it quickly finds its way and people don’t mind if it lacks foundation.

Of course, looking at the past, terms like Nouvelle Vague, British New Wave or Cinema of Transgression are very useful to keep an overview and be able to link what is linkable. But summarizing is rarely the best possible approach towards the present, especially nowadays when democratic diversity and accessibility have become widespread marketing principles that can’t be overestimated. What starts as a description might become a trend. And what becomes a trend might become a market term. As a present example we might take the wave of new extremism in French cinema. After many promising filmmakers like François Ozon, Gaspar Noé, Catherine Breillat, Bruno Dumont, Claire Denis, Patrice Chereau, Bertrand Bonello, Marina de Van, Leos Carax, Philippe Grandrieux, Jean-Claude Brisseau, Jacques Nolot, Virginie Despentes & Coralie Trinh Thi or Alexandre Aja and their works were put together amongst this statement, it is now resulting in the fact that some of the present works like The Divide only seem to be serving foreign market expectations to secure their financing. Taken the US market, one might also think about the extent to which the intense debates about Torture Porn or Terror were part of keeping up the foundation of commercial interest in extreme filmic violence. Was it only the audience that provoked the recent wave of sometimes mediocre genre flicks, including many remakes of past-time classics that were stripped of their substance? Considering the distance between audiences and actual production and sales, I seriously doubt this. If the market accepts things, it starts demanding them and making them appeal to audiences. Filmmakers face the growing problem of rising expectations, as financing their projects isn’t that easy as well as – people tend to forget – filmmaking in itself. Supply and demand are terms that not only work in the supermarket. But demand in cinema is determined by more than hunger. So let’s try not to create the wrong urges.

AE: „When I see a movie, I have the feeling that it helps me to live better in a way. Not really like ‘Oh it was so well done’ or ‘The images were so great’. Of course I have an inspiration from that as well, but not so much. It’s more from the effect of the movie. I’m just thinking: ‘OK, I want to use this effect on the spectator, or on the public with my film’.“

Under the conservative Canadian government, getting funding for new projects might become much more difficult in the future. So let’s hope that Anne Émond and her Montreal peers will be able to follow their instincts rather than financial obligations. Because they seem to have just the right feeling for what needs to be told. The starting point they created, the contemporary Québéquios cinema, with works like Dolan‘s two films, Curling, or Nuit #1, is to a big extent stunning. While Monsieur Lazhar, also a French-language Canadian film, received the best audience rating of the festival program, Nuit #1 was without doubt one of the most intense pieces of cinema that was screened in Rotterdam 2012. Right from the beginning, when people dance in a club with their eyes closed, everyone is alone here. Every mind seems to be on a different journey. A bitter premise for whats to come. Clara and Nikolai meet, move to his run-down apartment and fuck. Intensely, one might say. They seem to enjoy themselves. Only success seems to count, though. „Did you come?“, he asks in the end and satisfies her with his hand. When he falls asleep, she doesn’t. Clara walks through his apartment, seeks to find out who this person is. Then she decides to leave. The film could end at this point and they would probably never meet again. If it’s a different outcome, it wouldn’t be clear after the following 60 minutes. And if it is so, it wouldn’t mean anything. Would it?

AE: It’s so strange how near you can be physically and afterwards you say nothing. It never happens, this kind of night, I think. When you talk that much and it’s pretty intense, I’m sure it never happens in real life. […] Movies are for that sometimes, I think. To make things happen, that don’t happen in reality.

The present generation of artsy youngsters in our post-Hippie transgender tolerance generation knows how it works. „Everything goes“. That’s what we want to tell ourselves. Being 29, Anne Émond doesn’t hesitate to draw from her own experience and knows this attitude very well. She doesn’t offer a cheap escape. „Everything goes – nowhere!“, might be the statement she throws at us. Where Les Amours Imaginaires by Dolan celebrated the artificiality, the openness and melancholic weirdness of modern relationships during last year’s festival circuit, her film feels just real – so intensely real that it hurts. After the short peak of a meaningless orgasm, almost a numbing of the mind for them, comes insight, comes downfall: Clara and Nikolai start a long talk that lasts all night. Maybe calling it a talk even goes too far. Nuit #1 mainly consists of monologues in which the two characters start to tear their lives apart. Slowly and calm at some points, at the beginning almost romantic and a bit funny, then more and more intense, more rough, more and more honest and even brutal, self-destructive. They unveil themselves down to their very core and seek what is to be found in each others eyes. The sad answer seems to be, that they don’t find anything. Because soulless people cannot be soul mates. Love doesn’t seem possible here, maybe some kind of friendship, but without warmth. Nuit #1 shows people who are at the peak of their youth but feel alone and alienated from themselves. And that’s how the viewer might end up as well. It is no fun to watch this and it shouldn’t be, because this is intended to be a wake up call. Finally, the only perspective the story offers is not an optimistic one, but a very honest and open one, it’s living itself and the possibility, the freedom to be positive. The question it creates: Will we allow ourselves to be happy? After Nuit #1 we should definitely feel like trying.

Hier findet sich unsere gesamte Berichterstattung vom International Film Festival Rotterdam 2012.

Bildmaterial: International Film Festival Rotterdam