Sunday, April 15, 2018

CANON OF FILM: "DAY FOR NIGHT"

DAY FOR NIGHT (1973)

Director: Francois Truffaut


Screenplay: Francois Truffaut, Jean Louis Richard and Suzanne Schiffman



Francois Truffaut once said that the only thing he wants to see in a film is either the joy off making movies or the peril of making movies. He has no interest in much else. “Day for Night,” one of Truffaut’s best films, is about the joy of making movies, and also the perils along the way. I've been thinking about Truffaut a lot lately and how he was one of the first people to transfer from writing about film as a critic and essayist and then went into filmmaking himself, but also the fact that before Channel Awesome tried to put out their dumpster fire with nitroglycerin, I usually considered them the modern-day Cahiers du Cinema, only in film form. In hindsight, that might've been a bit much, for one thing, Cahiers du Cinema is still around, but for another, basically any collection of film and entertainment critics are all acolytes of that periodical in one way or another, and that goes for basically any reviewer in video form. I'm certain that had something like Youtube had been around back then Truffaut and most of the rest of the French New Wave would've taken full advantage of it and starting talking about movies on film clips on the internet as well. Especially someone like Truffaut who absolutely loved films and filmmaking.  

 I’ve written on films that give us behind-the-scenes perspective on how films are made before, like Fellini’s “8 ½,” (along that’s about trying to not make a movie if you follow that film correctly) or Robert Altman’s “The Player,”   and other films that were about characters in the movie industry like Nicholas Ray’s “In a Lonely Place,” and Guiseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso,” but rarely are their truly great films about the ways films are made, and the people making them. “Day for Night,” is a slice-of-life filled with numerous characters, many of whom are people playing variations on themselves (not just actors, a lot of the crew of the movie play people of the crew in the movie) as they work at Victorine Studios in Nice, France for a film called “Meet Pamela.” The first few days are shot without Pamela, as American movie star Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset) hasn’t arrived yet, and he must work around a booze-up aging actress forgetting her lines, Severine (Valentina Cortese, a favorite of Fellini), a lovesick leading man (Truffaut favorite Jean-Pierre Leaud) who thinks he’s about to marry the script supervisor (Dani), unaware she has other plans, the loss of film destroyed in the lab, the nervousness of investors, another actress who refuses to wear a bathing suit for a scene (Alexandra Stewart), all that’s before the American arrives, who’s barely able to hang on as she gets the lines at the last second, while she’s still trying to learn French. Truffaut himself plays the director of the movie within the movie, occasionally giving us helpful narration of his thoughts, and a rare view into his dreams, which includes a black-and-white image of a boy walking down the street who sees something that fascinates him. Only later in the film do we realize what it is he’s interested in, and it correlates to the director odd lack of a social life in a melodramatic behind-the-scenes world that surrounds him constantly. 

Truffaut died very young, only 54, but he managed to make 21 feature films in his short life, not to mention the occasional acting role, most notably in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and many books and criticisms on film, including a famous one on Hitchcock. I’ve always been more reluctant than some to fully embrace Truffaut; his old friend/rival Jean-Luc Godard always appealed more to my intellectual and adventurous filmmaking side while Truffaut was a more classical filmmaker. Why I rank “Day for Night,” so high, on top of it being more enjoyable and lighter than much of his other work, like “The 400 Blows,” is that his other work occasionally include very single-minded female characters, often obsessive, other times they’re ditzes. Not necessarily a bad thing as in Jeanne Moreau in “Jules and Jim,” or the great performance from Isabel Adjani in “The Story of Adele H.” Strangely, despite the multiple-character narrative of “Day for Night,” that would challenge Altman experts, I don’t get the feeling that any of the characters are single-minded. They’re all complete characters, all part of this temporary extensive family. Even the occasionally mysterious behavior like Alexander, the old-time lead actor (Jean-Pierre Aumont) making numerous trips to the airport has a surprisingly heartfelt revelation that only makes us feel we now know more about the character. 

Maybe it’s because the actors are probably based on real people and actual experiences, but it is certainly unusual for Truffaut characters, especially female character to be so full. Truffaut dedicated the movie to Lillian and Dorothy Gish, the great silent screen stars of cinema. Of Truffaut’s many desires, this film is about movies, his love of them, his love of making them, and his love for the process of making them, and especially his love of all the people who share in the experience. 


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