I’ve been watching this movie for YEARS and just recently found out that some of the events in the film are based on real murders. Claire Denis’ often forgotten about mid-90’s film ‘I Cant Sleep’ takes on a whole new meaning now that I know this. Here in America we have enough trouble keeping track of our own serial killers, so the news of a foreign serial killer like Theirry Paulin (whom part of ‘I Cant Sleep’ was based on) isn’t bound to reach U.S. soil in a timely fashion. I still feel like this is something I should’ve known, given all the random info I know about Claire Denis and her work. It just goes to show how much I pay attention (or don’t pay attention in this case). Denis’ early-mid 90’s work is becoming more and more obscure in the U.S. There’s still no DVD release of ‘No Fear No Die’ or ‘U.S. Go Home’ and the U.S. DVD of ‘I Cant Sleep’ has gone out of print (thankfully I own it).
‘I Cant Sleep’ is an underrated movie that got lost in the midst of so many other independent, multi-character, multicultural, similarly structured films of the mid-90’s. Not that it has anything to do with ‘Pulp Fiction’ (a movie that Claire Denis once refereed to as “verbal diarrhea”), but it still came out at the HEIGHT of that period in the 90’s when every other independent movie seemed to be one of those multi-character/interwoven plot films like Jarmusch’ ‘Night On Earth’ (‘92), Haneke’s ‘71 Fragments’ (‘94), ’Go’ (‘95), ’2 Days In The Valley’ (‘96) and plenty more.
’I Cant Sleep’ is set in Paris in the midst of a serial killers rampage. It’s centered around 3 characters who briefly connect or cross paths with one another.
Camille is a quiet, somewhat shy, gay, soft spoken drag queen. And he’s also an unsuspecting serial killer who targets old women (the newspapers have dubbed him “The Granny Killer”). This was the first movie Richard Courcet ever appeared in. Non-professional actors can be a gamble sometimes and even though his performance may be slightly rough around the edges, he gives off a perfectly creepy vibe as the quiet guy you’d wanna watch out for.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, the character of Camille and the murders he commits are based on real life serial Killer Theirry Paulin, who also performed as a drag queen and murdered elderly women
Theo is Camille’s 1/2 brother. Even though they aren’t close, they still see each other on a regular basis (Camille often crashes at his brothers apartment). Theo doesn’t seem to approve of his brother’s life style and wants nothing to do with him (and has no idea, like everyone else, that he’s a serial killer), yet they’re both performers/entertainers. Camille being a drag performer, while Theo is a violinist. Denis sets up a few shots (some subtle & some not-so subtle) to symbolize their relationship with each other. At the beginning of the movie Claire Denis introduces the 2 brothers separated by a wall which is a more than obvious metaphor. When Camille finally admits to the killings and his family has to come down to the police station, Theo makes a profound statement about his brother. In true Alex Descas fashion, he plays this role with the same calmness and composure that anyone familiar with his work should expect.
Daiga, a Lithuanian immigrant who comes to Paris with dreams of becoming an actress, is essentially the “main character” who kind of plays the role of a voyeur. After having her dreams of being an actress shattered, she ends up working at the hotel where Camille lives. Before realizing that he’s is the serial killer everyone’s talking about on the news, she grows fascinated and starts to follow him. She eventually realizes who Camille really is after seeing a police sketch of the suspected serial killer.
Claire Denis made ‘I Cant Sleep’ and ‘U.S. Go Home’ in the same year. Like I’ve pointed out in just about all of my blogs about her (most recently ‘Friday Night’), almost all of her films have a relationship, connection or a similar shot with one another. ‘Friday Night’ and ‘Beau Travail’ are connected through similar cinematography. ‘U.S. Go Home’ is like a prequel to ‘Nenette & Boni’ (the 2 lead actors in both films play brother and sister in both movies). ‘I Cant Sleep’ has a similar vibe to ‘U.S. Go Home’ and even features some of the exact same shots. The most interesting connection that the 3 main characters have with one another is that they’re all “foreign”/non-Parisians. Daiga is from Lithuania and Camille & Theo are from an immigrant family (their mother is from the Caribbean). ‘I Cant Sleep’ is essentially an “outsiders” view of Paris (something Claire Denis often explores). At no point do we see Paris through the eyes of a native “Parisian”. Even the supporting characters are made up of mostly eastern Europeans (Daiga’s family & associates) or people of Caribbean/African descent (Theo & Camille’s family & friends).
And on a much sadder note, I’d like to say rest in piece to Katerina Golubeva (the actress who plays ‘Daiga’ in ‘I Cant Sleep’). She died at the age of 44 this past august. Her filmography may not be that extensive, but she co-starred in one of my all time favorite movies; ‘The Intruder’ (also directed by Claire Denis) as well as other great modern french films like ‘Pola X’ (directed by her partner ‘Leos Carax’), the highly debated about ‘29 Palms’ and the Russian film ‘977’. Naturally I hold any actor that’s part of a circle of people consisting of Claire Denis, Leos Carax and Bruno Dumont near to my heart as these are films that I love very much and watch all the time. Her face was a regular fixture on my TV screen for many years. And she was more than just a good actress. She seemed to be one of the few women that was very secure and confident about her body and filming candid sex scenes on film (pola x and 29 palms). Its a shame. She was so beautiful and died way too young. If you aren’t familiar with her work you should get familiar.