The title of Stéphane Lafleur’s Tu Dors Nicole translates as “You’re Sleeping, Nicole,” and somewhat appropriately, the film opens with its protagonist, recent college grad Nicole (Julianne Côté), waking up in bed. She’s naked and next to a man, but she wants no attachment to this unnamed one-night stand. She leaves the room and steps out onto the sidewalk, where her bike stands hitched to a fence with what appear to be 100 other bikes exactly like it. Nicole’s name might be in the movie’s title, but the anonymity of this opening is overwhelming; she could be anybody at this moment.
Throughout the film, we’ll see Nicole sleeping, or waking, or trying to sleep, and Lafleur shoots her in a kind of soft, dreamy haze — surrounded by soft light and often standing apart, her angular features seemingly immovable. It’s summer in Quebec. Nicole’s parents are away, and she whiles away the days hanging out with her best friend Véronique (Catherine St. Laurent), planning a trip to Iceland, working at a thrift store, and playfully flirting with the drummer for her brother’s band, which is using the family home as a makeshift rehearsal space and recording studio. If all those elements sound overtly familiar, that’s because they are: Nicole’s world feels like it could easily be replaced by someone else’s, and very little might actually change. At one point in the film, Nicole mows the lawn while the band practices inside. She looks up, and suddenly it’s night, and she’s in the middle of a baseball field. It’s all the same: Scenes blend into others, without our always knowing how we got there.
Lafleur’s filmmaking, however, is anything but anonymous. Shot in black and white, Tu Dors Nicole displays an offhand surrealism that tempers the universality of its tale. Visual and aural gags abound. The band provides an unlikely drumbeat to seemingly random scenes. A young boy whose voice changed early hits on Nicole; he looks about 10 but sounds like Barry White. One night, Nicole is followed by a car emitting whale sounds. Peering in, she discovers a man driving his baby around in circles, trying to soothe the child to sleep with the gentle motion of the car and the otherworldly cooing of the whales. Nicole gets in and tries to drift off to sleep herself.
Tu Dors Nicole is a lovely little film, but one doesn’t want to make too big a case for it. We’ve had countless works about our early 20s — that hesitant period between adolescence and adulthood — and we’ll have countless more after this. Will this movie stand the test of time? Should it even? Lafleur’s film is a quiet trifle that sneaks up on you, like a pleasant dream you might have and then gradually forget. Its very slightness is its greatest weapon.