Julianne Côté in Stéphane Lafleur’s “Tu Dors Nicole.” | KINO LORBER
BY GARY M. KRAMER | The wry and witty Canadian comedy “Tu Dors Nicole” is filmed in black and white, as if to emphasize the colorless world the title character (Julianne Côté) inhabits. A 22-year-old house sitting for her parents for the summer, she wiles away her lazy humid days with her best friend, Véronique (Catherine St-Laurent). The two wander around aimlessly, play miniature golf (badly), and get soft ice cream trying to beat the heat and their boredom. The only bright spot is the credit card that arrives in the mail — signaled by some dreamy music — allowing Nicole unexpected financial freedom. In fact, Nicole and Véronique decide to take a vacation to Iceland. If they are going to do nothing, Nicole rationalizes, they should do it someplace else.
Such is the sly worldview of this charming, deadpan coming-of-age film. Writer-director Stéphane Lafleur peppers “Tu Dors Nicole” with clever sight gags, such as a neighbor using her vacuum to clean up dog shit, to puncture the absurdity of the stifling suburban life Nicole so desperately wants to escape.
The title means “You’re Sleeping, Nicole,” ironic given that she has insomnia — due as much to her lackluster life as the heat. But this summer represents her awakening, which is a subtle thing — no great traumatic event happens, just some mild knocks that prompt Nicole to grow up, be less selfish, and begin to take on adult responsibilities.
Julianne Côté is winning as young woman struggling to surmount mid-summer disaffection
Lafleur conveys Nicole’s despair with adroit visuals, such as her lying on an air mattress she has deflated or letting go of a floatation device and sinking to the bottom of her family pool. The pressures she faces are not particularly intense, but that’s not how they feel to her. Repeated trouble with a bike lock frustrates her efforts to get around town; she steals garments from the store where she works to relieve the tedium; she struggles to avoid a 10-year-old boy, Martin (Godefroy Reding), she used to babysit who has a crush on her.
One of the film’s funniest conceits is that Martin’s voice has changed early. His dialogue is spoken by the deep-timbred Alexis Lefebvre; coming out of the baby-faced Reding’s mouth, the effect is hilarious, especially as Martin waxes philosophically about love or gives Nicole advice on how to cure her insomnia.
Nicole’s troubles also include the return of her older brother, Rémi (Marc-André Grondin, from the queer classic, “C.R.A.Z.Y.”), who invades the house with his band mates. The incessant percussive beat of their music only worsens her insomnia, but her irritation over them may be due as much to the flirtatious interest Véronique takes in them.
That “Tu Dors Nicole” manages to make its sour heroine likeable is a credit to Côté’s engaging, naturalistic performance. She can be amusing — pulling faces when she meets Véronique’s cute elderly boss or in playful banter with Martin. And even when she turns petulant toward Tommy (Étienne Charron), a young man who is already engaged, we understand it is based in jealousy toward anyone moving ahead with their life while she continues to tread water in her own.
When Nicole mentions her plans to visit Iceland to Tommy, he tells her to see the geysers, which he explains explode from all the heat and pressure that build up underground. Nicole is experiencing her own heat and pressure, of course, and Lafleur ends “Tu Dors Nicole” with a wink that reassures us she will survive, even thrive.
“Tu Dors Nicole” is a modest film but it is also consistently disarming.
TU DORS NICOLE | Directed Stéphane Lafleur | Kino Lorber | In French with English subtitles | Opens May 29 | Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway at W. 63rd St. | lincolnplazacinemas.com