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difficult to think of anything more meta than making a movie about making a
movie and to have the director be acted by yourself, but that was exactly what
Francois Truffaut did with “Day for Night” (“La Nuit Americaine”).
and Scorsese, Truffaut was huge film geek and somewhere on the way I guess he
thought that the process of making a movie would be a story good enough to be a
movie. He had of course picked up a look of stories from the many movies he had
already made and this he pieced together as “Day for Night”. Within the
framework of making a movie called “Je Vous Présente Pamela” or just “Pamela”,
Truffaut lets the crew act out small vignettes of stories. The movie they are making
is not important, we never really understand what is going on in this movie.
Instead, it is the process of making it that is in focus and the myriad small
stories around it.
as the director, Ferrand, is stressing about making the movie in very short
time, compromising and improvising along the way to negotiate all the obstacles
being thrown at him. He is no auteur, just a craftsman and it is the grinding
out a movie that is the real art here. The actors all have their bigger and
smaller issues. Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a man-child, only slightly more
mature than in “The Mother and the Whore”. Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Aumont) is an
actor past his prime but with a career in Hollywood, he presents himself as a big
star. Séverine (Valentina Cortese), also past her prime, is drunk half the time
and forgetting her lines. The big star of the movie, Julie (Jacqueline Bisset),
is flown in from Hollywood to be the draw of “Pamela”, yet she is a nervous
wreck, kept up by her doctor husband.
there is the crew, Odile (Nike Arrighi), from make-up, Joëlle (Nathalie Baye),
the director’s assistant, Bertrand (Jean Champion), the producer and on and on.
manages to keep the movie realistic while describing the set as madhouse full
of overgrown children. It is a balance between a love letter to film making and
a comedy, on the verge of becoming a farce, but stepping back from that.
strength of “Day for Night” is that it is charming and many of the vignettes
are funny as stand-alone images. The weakness is that it is a mess. There are
so many things happening at the same time and many of the stories are both
unrelated and going nowhere and that makes “Day for Night” lose focus. Ferrand
and the movie are the only things that tie it together. Is that enough? At times
it is. The movie set is a madhouse and you have to be crazy to go into this
business, but somewhere in this mess there is also a great sympathy for those who
go through with it anyway and live and breathe for making movies.
I was not
entirely won over by “Day for Night”, it did feel too chaotic as a movie and
too comedic as a documentary, but there are moments where I love it and that is
The film industry
loved it. They are suckers for movies about movies and “Day for Night” won the
Academy award for best foreign language movie and was nominated in several other
categories as well. For Truffaut himself this was a personal success and made
him an enemy of Godard who hated the movie. That must be the biggest compliment