Jun 18, 2015

I Can't Sleep

Contrary to popular belief, there have been a number of prolific black serial killers, including the Grim Sleeper, Jake Bird, Anthony Sowell, Andrew Crawford, Lorenzo Gilyard, Wayne Williams, and Carl Eugene Watts (who killed upwards of 100 people), among countless others, and those are just examples of a couple Afro-Americans and do not include negroes from outside the United States. Also, contrary to popular belief, not all serial killers are intelligent as the rather prolific killing career of half-retarded gay drifter Ottis Toole (who was the influence for the character of the same first name in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)) demonstrates. Undoubtedly the French-German-Swiss co-production J'ai pas sommeil (1994) aka I Can’t Sleep aka I'm Not Sleepy directed by French female auteur Claire Denis (Trouble Every Day, White Material) is notable for having the rare distinction of depicting a gay black serial killer who gets his kicks robbing and killing extremely old white and weak women so that he can fund his lavish hedonistic lifestyle. Indeed, loosely based on the true story of Martinique-born mulatto serial killer Thierry Paulin—a curious fellow who ultimately died in prison from AIDS before being convicted of killing upwards of 21 elderly French and Jewish women between 1984 and 1987 with the help of his Afro-Guianan lover Jean-Thierry Mathurin (who was released in early 2009 after serving 18 years)—Denis’ film is ultimately a work that seemingly unwittingly depicts the cultural absurdity of post-colonial Parisian style multiculturalism. Vaguely Altman-esque in its sparsely plotted structure and inclusion a number of intersecting characters that dwell in the same area, I Can’t Sleep is also notable for being, among other things, one of the most plodding and anticlimactic serial killer flickers ever made, which is no surprise considering it was directed by the same director that created the ‘anti-horror’ arthouse effort Trouble Every Day (2001), which pissed off tons of bloodthirsty horror fan-boys, who tend to have limited attention spans and very little tolerance for films that mix nuisance and atmosphere with blood and gore. Indeed, despite the fact that he is a queer negro that does drag shows and kills elderly white women so that he can rob them to fund decidedly decadent cocaine-fueled homo parties, the serial killer of Denis’ film could not be more banal and patently pathetic. Co-penned by Denis’ usual screenwriter Jean-Pol Fargeau (Chocolat, Pola X), I Can’t Sleep is a truly ‘multicultural’ movie in the sense that virtually every single character is foreign and lives in their own little ethnic realm inside of Paris, with the main characters being Slavs and negroes (and the latter being from ex-colonies). In fact, ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘diversity’ in general are depicted as factors that lead to the killer’s murder campaign, as he is a gay negro who is rejected by both his black family and the mainstream white world, thus he is easily able to emotionally detach himself from his aberrant actions. Ironically, some of the people that the killer is most friendly with are old white women, yet his sense of social alienation is so strong and innate, and his resentment and boredom with life is so overwhelming, that he is able to carry out the killing with the ease that most people would put towards using the bathroom or checking their mailbox. A film that, although about 110 minutes long, does not reveal the identity of the killer(s) or a depiction of them carrying out their crimes until an entire hour has passed, I Can’t Sleep is quite possibly the least thrilling and most anti-climatic serial killer flick that has ever been made yet, in a sort of cryptic arthouse way, it ultimately gives more insights into what might lead someone to committing such ungodly crimes than both David Fincher’s SE7EN (1995) and Zodiac (2007) combined.  Of course, then again, the film has about as much to do with serial killers as Altman's Nashville (1975) has to do with country music.

 I Can’t Sleep begins quite inexplicably with a scene that director Denis has described as having no particular narrative function where two police officers flying in a helicopter over Paris laugh hysterically for a reason that is never made apparent to the viewer.  Admittedly, I like to think the cops are laughing about the fact that Paris has become a pathetic multicultural joke, as gay cross-dressing negroes now roam the streets and slaughter old grannies. From there, the viewer is introduced to the strikingly beauteous young quasi-protagonist Daïga (Yekaterina Golubeva of Leos Carax’s Pola X (1999) and Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms (2003)), who has driven from her homeland Lithuania in an ancient Soviet car to Paris where she plans to start a new life, though she does not have any specific plans aside from meeting up with her long lost great-aunt. Almost immediately upon arriving in Paris, Daïga is hassled by two cops for parking in an illegal spot, so she reacts by absurdly saying to one of the officers in Lithuanian, “Clam up, seal dick,” thus indicating that she is a tough little bitch who does not take shit from anyone, especially men, who she seems to have a special feeling of contempt for as her subsequent behavior also surely demonstrates. As Daïga heard on her car radio upon first driving into Paris, a serial killer dubbed by the media as the “Granny Killer” has been strangling to death and robbing elderly women in their apartments.  As depicted various times throughout the film, Daïga constantly hears about the killer via newspaper and radio but she seems like she could not care less, at least until she figures out who the grandma strangler is later by accident and decides to use her secret knowledge to her benefit. Ironically, the serial killer, Camille Moisson (unknown actor Richard Courcet in his first role)—a young gay negro that bears a strikingly resemblance to Jean-Michel Basquiat who is from the Caribbean island of Martinique—lives in a hotel that is flooded with elderly women who he gets along with, thus no one ever suspects he is the killer. 

 Largely owing to the fact that it focuses on no less than three different groups of people that somewhat overlap, I Can’t Sleep has a somewhat sloppy and incoherent storyline, at least at first. A good portion of the film takes place at a third rate hotel owned by a fairly masculine old woman with white hair named Ninon (Line Renaud), who mainly has Slavic tenants and who teaches other elderly woman karate in her free time so that they can protect themselves from the “Granny Killer” while totally oblivious to the fact that he is actually living in her building. Daïga arrives at Ninon’s hotel to reunite with her great-aunt Mina (Irina Grjebina), but when she gets there the old woman does not even recognize her. Of course, as a woman that proudly states, “We stand together. We help one another. We’re Slavs,” Mina instantly embraces Daïga when she informs her that she is her great-niece. In another subplot, the viewer encounters Camille's rampantly heterosexual brother named Theo (Alex Descas of Raoul Peck’s Lumumba (2000) and Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control (2009)), who seems to resent his homo brother and has a toddler mulatto son named ‘Little Harry’ (Ira Mandella-Paul) with an attractive, if not all that sane, white woman named Mona (Béatrice Dalle of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue (1986) and Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf (2003)).  As man that makes a living building bookshelves and other pieces of furniture for ungrateful middle-class folks that try to scam him out of money, Theo seems to hate white frogs, especially of the bourgeois sort, and wants to move back to Martinique with his girlfriend and their son, but Mona does not want to go, as she could not stomach living in a third world hellhole as she is a spoiled French girl and could not fathom living such a primitive lifestyle. Camille irregularly visits Theo mainly to see his nephew Harry, but it is quite apparent that the two brothers are more or less strangers who have nothing in common aside from the same bloodline. Indeed, Theo hardly suspects that his little bro is the infamous “Granny Killer,” as he wants nothing to do with his brother's personal life, which involves decadent drag performances at gay bars and S&M and bondage photo shoots, among other things that would shame most heterosexual men.

 As a chick that goes to all-male porn theaters just to have a laugh while in a room full of many horny and assumedly masturbating men, Daïga is a somewhat strange little lady who seems to think rather lowly of members of the opposite sex. While her great-aunt manages to land her a job with Ninon cleaning rooms at the hotel, Daïga was hoping to find much more dignified employment with a middle-aged theater director named Abel (played by French hack director Patrick Grandperret in a rare acting role), who invites her on a date and assumedly fucks her, but never gives her a job as he promised he would, which naturally infuriates the character. When Daïga later spots Abel driving around in a fancy convertible, she decides to chase him down and violently crash into him even though she has two passengers in her car, including a Frenchman that she does not know who wants to buy her automobile and a fat and exceedingly effete Slavic queen named Vassili (Tolsty of John Frankenheimer’s Ronin (1998)). While Vassili and the Frenchman tell the police that Daïga intentionally crashed into his car, Abel denies it and tells them it is an accident because he knows that he literally and figuratively screwed over the young Slavic babe by not giving her a job like he promised he would. While waiting at the police station after the crash, Daïga notices a police sketch of Camille and his white boyfriend Raphaël (Vincent Dupont of Jaco Van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody (2009)) and realizes that they are the so-called “Granny Killer.”  Of course, as someone that has no allegiance to Paris or elderly French women, Daïga decides to keep her rather valuable information to herself, as she has big plans that will help her get back to her Slavic homeland.

 Indeed, Camille and his bald white beau Raphaël like to gang up on old defenseless women and kill them, with the latter using his charms to trick the victims into letting them into their homes and the former eventually strangling them to death with his bare hands. Due to being a fairly lackluster killer who puts less passion into his murders than he does into taking a leak or putting on a pair of fishnet stockings (which he regularly wears!), Camille forgets to confirm that one of his victims is dead upon strangling her and she ultimately survives and provides his and Raphaël’s physical description to the police. Rather absurdly, aside from a vague sexual dynamic that is only hinted at (the two gay boys attempt to murder one old woman after getting into a fight and making up), the only reason Camille and his boy toy rob and kill old women is so that they can pretend to be rich and opulent and show off to their wealthy fag friends by buying them expensive dinners. Indeed, one of their friends is a very Aryan-looking blond fag (Laurent Grévill) that works as a physician and when Camille buys him an expensive dinner, the good doctor pays him back by buggering his brown bunghole. While the doctor does have enough sense to wash off his prick after penetrating Camille’s man-cunt, he has no clue that the young negro has recently contracted AIDS (ironically, Camille sees the doctor at the hospital and waves to him the same day he finds out that he has contracted gay cancer). Indeed, not unlike French poststructuralist philosopher Michel Foucault, Camille seems to have a sadistic desire to infect as many men with AIDS as possible, as he tells none of his sexual partners about his rather deadly diseased before being buggered by them. Meanwhile, Theo buys his family plane tickets for Martinique, so his girlfriend Mona conspires to steal their son little Harry and run away, as she refuses to leave Paris and certainly will not allow her son to be taken to another country without her. Rather curiously, after realizing that Camille is the killer, Daïga decides to stalk him and eventually hangs out with him at a diner.  In a sick sort of way, Daïga and Camille seem to be sort of kindred spirits who are united in their mutual social alienation from both their foreign subculture and the Paris populous in general.  Ultimately, Camille is caught by the police while walking home one night after watching his brother play violin with a band at a club. While Camille is being arrested, Daïga breaks into his room and steals that money that he has stolen from his victims.  Somewhat curiously, Camille has stuffed all the cash in a trash bag as if it is totally meaningless and worthless to him, thus highlighting the senselessness of his savage crimes. After Camille is arrested, one of the cops mocks him by stating, “Camille…That’s a girl’s name.” When the police interview Theo about his brother, he has no problem admitting to the white cop, “My brother’s a stranger to me, just like you.” As for Camille’s mother, she completely loses it and says to her son while he is being hauled away in handcuffs, “I should have killed you when you left my belly. I’m the one who’s dead! Why did I give birth to you, Satan? Why did you do this to me? You were such a good little boy. . .So kind.” In the end, the film comes full circle, with Daïga driving out of Paris just as she once drove in at the beginning of the film. 

 Ultimately, I Can’t Sleep is a sort of anti-film noir that breaks virtually all of the aesthetic and especially thematic conventions of the American quasi-genre. Indeed, aside from the fact that the police are mostly faceless misanthropic pricks who are hardly portrayed as heroes (notably, one of the cops says to Daïga, “Human beings are animals”), Denis’ film dares to force the viewer to empathize with the killer, who is not revealed to be killer until about an hour into the film for that very reason, as if to trick the unwitting filmgoer into sympathizing with his pathetic plight as a cross-dressing colored boy who enjoys getting manhandled by dapper white dudes. Of course, the film also lacks a femme fatale, at least in the conventional sense, as while Daïga gets to know Camille in a dubious sort of way and then robs him of his money, she never conspired to use her carnal goods to turn a good guy bad like your typical scheming film noir whore. In fact, the most sinister force in I Can’t Sleep is indubitably the city of Paris itself, which is depicted as inspiring the sort of social alienation that leads to some sorry sod like Camille becoming a serial killer and Daïga becoming a thief. While various newspapers are featured throughout the film mentioning the killings, none of the characters really seem to be in any way affected by the granny slayings, hence why it was so easy for Camille and his cocksucking comrade to get away with their dastardly deeds for so long.  In that sense, the film depicts a much darker world than Fritz Lang's M (1931), which features a society that is plagued by an economic depression and rampant criminality where even career criminals, gangsters, and streetwalkers go to the effort of collectively hunting down and capturing the serial killer.  While I am not exactly sure of Denis’ intent and seriously doubt that she has any real nationalistic proclivities, I Can’t Sleep certainly depicts multiculturalism as a sort of corrosive and malignant force of the contra nature and socially autistic sort that inspires apathy, social alienation, and criminality, especially when various different groups are living in their own hermetic worlds and thus feel no loyalty to their neighbors, let alone their city or country. Of course, being an exceedingly effete negro homo, Camille makes for the ultimate socially alienated individual, hence his lack of apathy when it comes to dispatching other human beings, whose lives and emotions mean nothing to him. When Camille’s mother says to him “You were such a good little boy. . .So kind” after being caught, his sense of alienation is only all the more highlighted. Of course, as a homesick negro who incessantly dreams of going to Martinique, Camille's brother Theo also symbolizes one of the many problems with multiculturalism and his mulatto son Harry is symbolic of one of the more extreme results of such an abstract and artificial ‘postmodern’ society, as he is a bastard boy that belongs to no race, culture, or country. I do not think it is a coincidence that Camille develops a special affection for his nephew Harry, as he seems to remind him of himself at a younger age due to his precarious place in the world (notably, unlike the fictional character Camille, the real-life serial killer he was based on, Thierry Paulin, was a mulatto).  Of course, like Denis' greatest works, ranging from her first film Chocolat (1988) to later great works like White Material (2009), I Can't Sleep demonstrates in a fairly socially intricate and refreshingly idiosyncratic way that the French are now paying dearly for their colonial days. In that regard, I think it is quite fitting that there is a shot in the film of a newspaper reading, “France is afraid,” as the country will inevitably be consumed by its so-called multicultural population in a couple decades as events like the Charlie Hebdo shooting hint at.  Indeed, the ‘culturally enriched’ Paris depicted in I Can't Sleep ultimately seems like a far less depressing time, as one homo mulatto granny-slayer is nothing compared to a large Occidental city with a large medieval-minded Muslim population, or as director Denis once stated herself in reference to her film, “...a society and a city work best when [its] links are tight. For me, life is a story of connections – without them society will destruct.” Of course, a society that simultaneously endorses both the growth of a Muslim population and virtually every form of sexual debauchery, especially homosexuality, is nothing short of schizophrenic and ultimately suicidal.

-Ty E

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