Day for Night (1973)
Director: François Truffaut
Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Léaud, François Truffaut
My Rating: 10/10
In Short: Smart, funny, human drama for all cinemagoers
Francois Truffaut is perhaps the most human of all the French New Wave directors. He only made 23 films before his untimely death in 1984 of a brain tumour, but all of them are warm, beautiful, welcoming movies; pleasant and enjoyable films that grab the viewer and give them a unique experience that is impossible to equal; his brilliant stories and ingenious ways of telling them make him unlike all other New Wave directors.
Day for Night, his most accessible movie amongst a career full of accessible movies, is about nothing less than his passion for filmmaking, and the journeys it has taken him on. It’s an incredibly personal work for Truffaut, because it is about him, in more ways than one. He himself plays the central character in the movie, a filmmaker named Ferrand, who is attempting to make what will obviously be a terrible romantic drama, called Meet Pamela. Truffaut’s film follows Ferrand, and all his many cast and crew members, as they face their own personal crises while attempting to make the film. There is Alphonse, a lovestruck and uptight young man who obsesses over his girlfriend and is distraught when she runs off with the stuntman; Julie, a Hollywood actress who speaks surprisingly fluent French and has come to France to make the film; there is Severine, an ageing actress who is obviously an alcoholic, and in a scene that is simultaneously funny and painful, continues to stumble on her lines and do the wrong thing. And their is also a wide range of other supporting characters, from script girls to cameramen, key grips to producers, who all frantically rush to finish the film.
If there is one thing Day for Night sets out to prove, it is that making a film is difficult. You can’t just be in it for the money; filmmaking promises an exciting and rewarding experience, but will also take things from you: it will cost you your patience, and sometimes your sanity. Truffaut simply wants to show that no matter what toll it takes, making movies is fun. People die, run off, quit, stumble on their lines and a cat refuses to drink milk in one hilarious scene, but still it is fun. Truffaut is brilliant as an actor/director, managing to guide the audience through the film-within-a-film with ease. As we observe these characters make their movie, we also learn cool and very interesting things about how a movie is made, and how the audience is fooled. In one scene, the camera shows what is very obviously a fake wall with a window in the centre, and nothing else whatsoever. Then the camera changes to show the wall from the other side, and zooms in so that the wall looks like the wall of an actual house with a real window; the camera has zoomed in so far that we think we’re inside a real house. The filmmaking process is complex, but brilliant, and has results that seem normal on screen but in reality were arranged meticulously, so that every detail had to be perfect.
Indeed, every detail of Day for Night is perfect too, both in terms of plot and technical achievement. It entertains and informs us simultaneously; it sweeps us along in a brilliant drama while also being incredibly interesting and fun. There is a lot of humour; it is certainly Truffaut’s funniest film, and even when characters die or run away, there is always some comic relief, whether in the form of clever lines written by Truffaut (“I’d drop a guy for a film, but I’d never drop a film for a guy!”) or subtle in-jokes (“We hope audiences enjoy seeing it as much as we enjoyed making it.”)
And Truffaut… both as director of his own film and as fictional director Ferrand, is stellar. He proves that he is both a brilliant director and a talented actor, oozing coolness as Ferrand and showing the usual strength and ability behind the camera. He described Day for Night as a movie “for people who love movies,” and I couldn’t agree more. Day for Night is simply a must-see for all who love cinema; even if you don’t watch or like foreign films, you have to watch this one. It’s one of those rare films that it’s impossible not to like, and I would be very surprised if someone saw this and didn’t enjoy it. If you love cinema, any kind of cinema, Day for Night is a film for you, made with love, and dedication.