Interview: Anne Émond Takes a Stand With the Erotic, Incendiary “Nuit #1”

With a film that shocks not with a sexually graphic opening scene but with what's said after, the French Canadian filmmaker emerges as a bold new voice in cinema...
Catherine de Léan and Dimitri Storoge in Anne Emond's Nuit 1

After making a film full of audacious statements, perhaps Anne Émond saved the most startling one to frame the discussion around “Nuit #1.”

“The sex is not really important and you’re almost not supposed to remember it at the end of the movie,” the 30-year-old Montreal-based filmmaker said of her feature debut, a provocative drama set almost entirely in an apartment following what could be expected to be a forgettable one-night stand.

Instead, the brief encounter between Clara (Catherine de Léan) and Nikolai (Dimitri Storoge) after meeting at a rave evolves into an evening that will surely change them both, the temporary respite of sex soon replaced by talk of the lonely, intimidating world they inhabit. However, Émond intentionally overwhelms the viewer with a 10-minute view of their carnal exploits upfront, the graphic depiction of the strangers pressing flesh prefacing the dialogue meant to draw blood in order to place the audience in the same position as Nikolai when he comes to the realization that even though we’ve seen him and Clara in what seemingly would be their most intimate of moments, their true identities and beliefs remain shrouded in secrecy.

Stuffed with allusions to social problems Nikolai and Clara can’t solve and personal revelations they’ve held onto since there’s no one else to trust them with, the film aims to create a world outside their doors more stifling than however uncomfortable their post-sex intercourse can get inside. (Notably, while there’s little left to the imagination onscreen, the same could be said for why “Nuit #1” was picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Adopt Films, a new company launched by Jeff Lipsky, who has specialized in making similarly erotically-investigative character studies “Flannel Pajamas” and “Twelve Thirty” after he rose to prominence as a co-founder of October Films.)

Though one gets the feeling from “Nuit #1” that Émond would be content to let the Genie Award-winning film speak for itself, she did spare a few words for us about the conception of the tightly composed production, challenging common depictions of sex onscreen and where Nikolai and Clara might end up after the credits roll.

How did you get interested in filmmaking in the first place?

I was 15 years old and I was in a really, really small town [of] a thousand people living near the St. Lawrence River and I saw the movie “Trainspotting” by Danny Boyle and it made me dream. I would never be a junkie in my life, but with “Trainspotting,” I could know what it is to be a junkie, like it could make me live something I could never live. That’s why I’m making movies now, to say or go through things I can never have in real life.

How did this film come about?

In fact, I didn’t know it was a movie at the beginning. It was almost a diary I was writing for myself, for some monologues. I didn’t know what it would be and it became the film after weeks of writing. I was 27 and it’s really for my friends. I got the idea [when] we were [leaving] a club at eight in the morning and we were between 25 and 35 years old, me and my friends, and I was thinking, wow, why did we spend all night dancing and drinking? Why don’t we have families or a job? Why aren’t we doing important things? And I wanted to write about something about this generation.

There are so many issues discussed over the course of the night, bigger than these characters’ personal lives. Are these things you were working out on your own and wanted to make the film to find answers for?

Totally. I had the feeling that in the movie we don’t talk about serious things anymore…well, not only in the movie, but in real life, we’re afraid to go deeper and have real discussions. It’s normal to ask yourself where are we living? Where is the power? [Clara and Nikolai] feel really oppressed and I think this is how we feel right now in the world. I’m 30 years old and I’m really afraid. In fact, politically and economically, maybe I don’t know anything, but I feel I don’t have any power to change anything. I wanted them to talk about that and maybe sometimes they sound naive, but for me, it’s not a problem. At least they are asking questions and trying to make sense of all those things.

If this film started out in diary form and, I’ve heard you say, you wanted to structure the film almost as a questionnaire, what made this idea cinematic to you?

It could be a play or something — it’s two people talking in one location and one night — but for me, it’s a movie because there are all the close shots. I really believe in the power of the actors and faces – like you don’t have any choice but to watch their eyes.

It’s smaller [than a play]. It’s not even dialogue. It’s two people talking, but they are almost talking for themselves. They could be completely alone because there’s four scenes in the movie. He talks, she talks, and then he talks again and she talks and that’s it. So it’s really a radical structure. But it was not important because it’s only two people trying to communicate, but they are not really good at it. That’s why the sex at the beginning is so long. It’s the only way they know to communicate, then they are not even able to talk. They are just able to [speak in] monologues. Also, when they are going outside to fight and to scream at each other in the middle of the night, it’s a dance. We [actually] asked a choreographer to help us because it’s only two people dying to not be alone anymore, but not really able to be with someone else, to have real intimacy.

That’s interesting since within such a confined setting, you’re drawn to what they say, but how they move is equally crucial.

There was no improvisation at all in all the movie. At the beginning of the film, the sex — it was 15 pages of the screenplay, so everything is written and described really carefully — so it’s almost like a dance in the apartment. It’s the same for the monologues after. Every word is chosen and maybe [non-French-Canadian audiences won’t] understand, but [the characters] talk like books almost. They talk in poetry a little bit. We don’t talk like that in French usually, and it’s the same for the dance also. I was thinking, Okay, if they are not able to talk [to each other], they’re not able to fight, so I wanted it to be really mechanical. Everything is really calculated in the movie. When I see the movie now, I’m seeing two people who never talk or will have real contact for years and in this one magical night, they are going through everything, so it cannot be really easy and natural.

Was the film shot mostly in the order that we see it in?

We did shoot in chronological order, so we started with the sex scene the two first nights of the shoot. It was really, really difficult to start the shooting like that, but we really wanted to shoot in the real order and how it happened for [the characters]. We shot in 20 nights [in total], [and] every night we were coming back to this small apartment [with] only two people talking in front of brown walls, so we were worried about the film we were [making]. [laughs]

The way that you show the sex is really raw and deliberate – was that a reaction to the way you’ve seen sex depicted in other films?

What’s interesting in this scene is everything’s normal, natural, like they have to stop [when] she has to go to the toilet and then he has to find the condom and everything. It’s not this big, romantic or real sexy scene. When I hear people who are shocked by the scene or asking me why did you show so much sex and [nudity], I’m just like wow, go to the Internet and you’ll find worse. It’s real people, it’s real bodies and it’s more interesting than any porn or any romantic comedy that you can see where everything goes perfectly on the first night.

You’ve said that both characters “feel better” after that night, which made me wonder, have you thought about these characters much outside of the story you told onscreen?

I’ve thought about them really often in fact because it’s my friends. Nikolai is [based on] my ex-boyfriend and one of my best friends and I still see them! [laughs] So I still think about them. And yeah, they feel better after [the evening they spend together] because Nikolai could take care of someone else other than himself for a while and [Clara] could open up [more]. It’s not the beginning of a love story and everything is not solved. [To put it in a broader social context] maybe it’s the night before they go out in the street and they try to change the world.

“Nuit #1” opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center on July 27th and in Los Angeles at the Nuart on August 10th, followed by a limited release nationally.

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