Appetite for Destruction, by Rita Cannon
Ladies: You’ve just had a one-night stand with a guy you met at a club. He’s cute, seems nice enough, and the sex was pretty good. You were planning on booking it out of there before morning, but he catches you sneaking out, and seems unduly angry and judgmental about it, so you wind up staying and talking to him. During this conversation, you learn he’s a frustrated artist, most of his frustration stemming from the fact that he doesn’t really make any art. He does a lot of drinking and drugging, watches a lot of porn, can’t hold down a job, and, in his own words, loves to “destroy beautiful things.”
You would leave, right? Please tell me you would leave. Your murder bell would go off and you would leave as soon as you could. I think that’s what most women would do. Clara (Catherine de Léan), the weird, sad antiheroine of Anne Emond’s French-Canadian drama Nuit #1, does not leave. She talks to Nikolai (Dimitri Storoge), the lazy, obnoxious destroyer of beautiful things, for another 70 minutes or so. A lot of Nuit #1 depends on Clara sticking around when she shouldn’t, and seeking solace in the worst places possible. As the movie unfolds and the two characters enumerate their miseries to each other in long, almost unbroken monologues, Clara’s weird behavior starts to make a little more sense – but only a little. She stays in Nikolai’s apartment more because the movie needs her to than because of any recognizably human impulse. The story’s real-time, one-location scope feels contrived rather than organic, and it stays stagey-in-a-bad-way right through its slightly baffling epilogue.
If I’m going to be totally honest about my reaction to this film, and especially to the character of Nikolai, I should mention that I saw Nuit #1 the night after the shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. I heard about it first thing in the morning, had been thinking about it all day, and was in a pretty weird mood by the time I arrived at the screening of Nuit #1. I think I was looking to be cheered up. I was probably hoping for a good-natured, romantic story about two free-spirited young people finding connection after a serendipitous night of passion, because darn it, human beings are good, and life is worth living! That’s not the kind of film Nuit #1 is, and while I understand that it’s unfair to punish a film for not being exactly what you want – especially when that want is at least partially influenced by an event the filmmakers had nothing to do with – it would be dishonest of me to say that the tragedy in Colorado didn’t color my perception of this movie. I didn’t really like Nuit #1, and I don’t think I would have even if I’d seen it at a different time. But I also suspect that my dislike may have been amplified by the feelings I inadvertently carried with me into the screening, and I feel obligated to acknowledge that.
Clara and Nikolai are the only characters in the film, and they’re both miserable. During the week, Clara tamps down her crippling depression with her job as a schoolteacher. On the weekends, she blots it out with alcohol, drugs, partying, and promiscuous sex. She’s a mess of a human being, but she turns it all in on herself. She doesn’t try to take anyone down with her. Nikolai, on the other hand, freely admits his unhappiness is no one else’s fault, but still lashes out at Clara as though she were the cause of all his problems. He berates her and basically calls her a slut for trying to leave his apartment before morning. He describes his many faults in a defiant tone of voice, as though daring her not to find him disgusting. He practically brags about the time he got a girl pregnant, promised to go with her to her abortion, and then stood her up. When Clara confesses that she also had an abortion once, Nikolai turns on her, calling her a selfish whore and a murderer. Depressed or not, he is an awful person, and especially with the Aurora shooting still fresh in my mind, he seemed emblematic of a certain type of awful person – the angry young man who can’t get his shit together, seems perversely proud of his misanthropy, and feels he has the right to take it out on other people. My level of patience for that type of person is never very high, but it was at an all-time low on July 20th, and I think that made the film harder for me to watch.
Storoge and de Léan both give strong performances, and do the best they can with the script’s lengthy speeches, a lot of which turn into lists of psychological symptoms before they’re over. But even the best acting can’t always salvage a script that flounders, dialogue that feels forced, or characters that feel less like real people than symbols of urban loneliness and vehicles for the discussion thereof.