I'm Not Sleepy

France–Germany–Switzerland, 1994г., 110 min


Claire Denis

When Daiga arrives in the city, she has nothing.  Nothing except her determination to survive, her wild beauty, and an energy come from afar, even further than her native Lithuania.  In the city, in the not necessarily wealthy neighbourhoods of the metropolis, which is crazily prosperous compared to where the “others” come from, many other people live and cross paths, people with different lives, with particular appetites, and with their own  personal distress and fears. 

They are black, and they are brothers.  One, Théo, lives with his wife and works on the black, a sinister pun; the other, Camille, is gay, a big spender, a cheat, and a murderer.  Camille’s victims are the opposite of himself, and yet so similar: old women. Madame Ninon wants to teach old people self-defense and instructs them in karate; Théo wants to save Camille from his murderous and suicidal spiral; Daiga wants to exist and is ready to do anything to that end, but the big city also wants to exist, and is also ready to do anything to that end.

About the film

I Can’t Sleep is based on a news story which was the talk of the town in the 1980s, the Thierry Paulin affair, «the granny killer of the 18th arrondissement».  It offers an opportunity for one of the first and finest representations of what was beginning to happen in large cities, due to the effect of waves of immigration triggered by the violence of worldwide inequality.  The film, which is neither moralizing nor sociological, constructs a wild perception of the city permeated by savage forces, fears and drives, and does not pass judgment on anyone, the better to present the dangerous complexities then emerging with the end of the Cold War, globalization, and the disastrous spread of AIDS.

The title rings with a kind of sleepwalking stroll through the city, rendering perceptible, like colours and music, the complex and contradictory forces which sweep the protagonists along. There is something trance-like in the way Claire Denis portrays these physical and mental circulations, an extreme tension where wit nevertheless appears at times, at those extreme points where people, and worlds, can topple over.  

Claire Denis - 1

Claire Denis

Her films bear their viewers away, towards a hidden place: to the heart of darkness, it might be said, and all the more readily because African sources play a decisive part for her. But this darkness is not necessarily that of inextricable jungle or the blackness of the human soul. It is the darkness of the mysteries of our existence, of our desires, and our fears, here, now, and everywhere. It would be a futile quest to seek out among French filmmakers someone as filled with a sense of the world, in all its geographical and human complexity, as Claire Denis. As the grand-daughter of an inhabitant of Amazonia, and daughter of a colonial administrator, she was brought up at the mercy of her father’s postings in an Africa which has directly inspired several of her films (CHOCOLATE, GOOD WORK, WHITE MATERIAL), and haunts them all. She came to film somewhat haphazardly, after being an IDHEC (film school) student with no particular bent, and discovered the degree of her affinity with the language of film as a result of other journeys, aesthetic and geographical alike.   Listen to the noise of the large Korean port in THE INTRUDER after the mediaeval chill of the Haut Doubs region of eastern France, feel the dry, white heat of WHITE MATERIAL, hear the harmonics of three continents around the cock-fighting pit in NO FEAR, NO DIE: this particular cinema is highly sensitive to the powers of places, to the political stakes of meetings, to the joyous and dangerous enigmas of the differences between languages, cultures, quality of light and music. Other journeys, other encounters, in Asia especially, in South America and in the Arab world too, would then continue to make Claire Denis the most cosmopolitan of French filmmakers, of either gender. © From Claire Denis—A Sense of the World By Jean-Michel Frodon