- Simply the greatest film about making a film ever made! 9/30/2003 12:00:00 AM by RWiggum
"Shooting a movie is like a stagecoach trip. At first you hope for a nice ride. Then you just hope to reach your destination."
Early in the film, director Ferrand, played by Fran?ois Truffaut, says this in a voice-over of 'Day for Night'. A lot of the film illustrates that this is a very true sentence.
In his legendary Hitchcock book, Truffaut says at one point that it would be a nice idea to make a film about making a film, and Hitchcock agrees. Luckily Truffaut liked that idea enough to actually make this film, as 'Day for Night' is probably the best film ever made about making a film.
We are on the set of 'Meet Pamela'. 'Meet Pamela' is a love and revenge story, about a man falling in love with daughter-in-law. It looks very much like a pretty mediocre film. I doubt I would like it. But that's good, as it doesn't distract us from what's happening on the set, from the many characters.
We get to know the cast and crew of 'Meet Pamela': Julie Baker, a second generation Hollywood star whose nervous breakdown she's recovering from causes insurance problems; Alphonse, a very jealous, very neurotic French actor who's so madly in love with a girl he organizes the job of the script girl for her just to have her near; Alexandre, a veteran actor who played many lovers in his life, but is actually a closet homosexual; Severine, an Italian actress with an alcohol problem who used to play opposite Alexandre frequently in her career, but hasn't talked to him in years, maybe because she found out she had no chance to become his real-life lover. From the crew, we especially remember Joelle, the production assistant who almost seems to be more involved in the making of the film than director Ferrand (it is her who has the film's most often quoted line: "I'd drop a guy for a film, but I'd never drop a film for a guy"), Liliane, the girl who got the job as a script girl only because Alphonse wanted to have her around him, who doesn't really seem to be interested in the film - or in Alphonse; Odile, the makeup girl who also got a bit part in the film; Bernard, the prop man, who gives us with his every day work a look behind the scenes of a film; and the unit manager Lajoie, whose wife is always around and at one point shouts at the cast and crew because she just can't understand their 'immoral' behavior.
The film doesn't have a plot of it's own, but it shows us all these characters and their problems, trying to get a film made and getting over one catastrophe after the next, sometimes something as harmless as a kitten refusing to drink milk or Stacey, a supporting actress causing scheduling problems because of her pregnancy, sometimes something more serious as Alphonse refusing to go on acting after Liliane leaves the set with a stunt man, with even more complications to follow when Julie tries to cure Alphonse's neurosis. But not even a lethal car accident can stop the making of the film.
'Day for Night' also has brilliant performances, but three stand out: Nathalie Baye in her first notable performance as the omni-competent Joelle and Jean-Pierre Léaud, who never was better in his life than here as Alphonse, would make it a worthwhile film alone. But it is Valentina Cortese who steals the show as the fading actress Severine. Her scene opposite Alexandre in which she can't remember her dialog and suggests just saying numbers (she did the same when she worked with "Federico") is priceless.
At one point Ferrand says that a director is a man who is constantly asked many questions and sometimes knows the answer, and it is sort of a surprise that the one man who "invented" the auteur theory, which more or less says that a film is the director's work, makes a film that shows how many people's work is involved in the making of a film. But it is not only a film about people making films: Many of the characters (most notably Ferrand, Alphonse and Joelle) are film enthusiasts, and the entire film is a film from a film lover about film lovers for film lovers. It's Truffaut's best and shouldn't be missed by cinephiles.
- Delicate but penetrating 5/24/2003 12:00:00 AM by DeeNine-2
La Nuit Américaine is an interesting movie with celebrated French director Francois Truffaut playing a director making a movie. He proves to be a modest and convincing actor himself while patiently weaving a tale about how movies are made and how intense the emotional interactions among those making the movie can be.
Don't give up on this one too soon. It starts slow and seems almost amateurish because of the relatively low-tech way the film within the film is being shot. Truffaut gives us a glimpse of how the production crew works together (and sometimes at odds) while showing us some of the things that can go wrong while making a movie. He begins with the technical details of the production but before long begins to concentrate on the personalities of the movie-makers and their individual stories. Each story is carefully crafted in a somewhat leisurely way almost like the characterizations in a soap opera (without of course the phony drama and mass market sentimentality seen on TV). Truffaut's fine sense of emotional conflict and how conflict might be resolved makes the various stories touching without being maudlin.
Jacqueline Bisset who stars as English actress Julia Baker who plays the title role in the film within the film (May I Introduce Pamela?) doesn't make her appearance until about a fourth of the way in. She is a delight as an actress with a heart of gold recovering from a nervous breakdown married to an older man whom she does indeed love. Jean-Pierre Leaud, whom most viewers will recall as the running boy in Truffaut's The 400 Blows, plays a young and not entirely confident actor who gets jilted by the script girl who runs off with the stunt man during production. Bisset's warm and sisterly befriending of Leaud is, shall we say, entirely French (which gets her into trouble with her husband). This really is a skillful showcasing of Bisset since she gets to play something like an ingenue with her husband and the older woman with Leaud. Be careful you might fall in love with her.
Valentina Cortese in a fine supporting role does a most convincing job of playing the temperamental Italian actress just past her prime who quaffs champagne while working, who forgets her lines and can't find the right door, but when properly indulged gives a great performance.
My problem with this movie is I saw the dubbed version and of course that is disconcerting because one is constantly trying to reconcile the visualized actor with the dubbed one. To see Jacqueline Bisset who is beautifully fluent in both English and French speaking French while at the same time hearing someone else speaking English for her is just a bit too much to take. I understand that the DVD version is in French with subtitles. I would recommend that you get that and not the dubbed video.
Truffaut is the kind of director who allows the audience to penetrate not only his characters to see what makes them tick, but also the stars who play those characters. He does a particularly beautiful job with Bisset who is warm and wise and something close to heroic, and with Leaud whose childishness seems natural and whose pettiness forgivable. Don't believe those reviewers who think this is a slight film. It is carefully crafted and very well thought out and is a fine example of the work of the one of the great directors of the French cinema. See it for Truffaut whose delicate genius is evident throughout.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
- A movie made with skill and affection 1/16/2006 12:00:00 AM by marissas75
Fran?ois Truffaut's "Day for Night" ("La nuit américaine") is a movie about the making of another movie, "Meet Pamela" ("Je vous présente Pamela"). From the snippets we see of "Meet Pamela", it looks like an insignificant and silly little film, even though its stars are fond of describing it to the press as a "modern tragedy." However, they mostly don't have time to philosophize about the larger meaning of "Meet Pamela"--they're just trying to film the darn thing!
"Day for Night" is an ensemble movie, showing how the many kinds of people on a film set surmount the many minor crises inherent in film-making. There are romantic entanglements and misalliances, as well as technical problems (e.g. the film's title refers to the necessity of shooting a nighttime scene using daylight and a special filter).
Valentina Cortese has some unforgettable, hilarious scenes as Severine, an alcoholic actress who can't remember her part. Also good are Nathalie Baye as an unflappable continuity girl; Jean-Pierre Léaud as an intense but callow young actor; and Jacqueline Bisset as an actress trying to survive the movie-making process after having suffered a nervous breakdown the prior year.
All these elements make "Day for Night" an entertaining movie. But upon reflection, I'm amazed at the craftsmanship it involved. Taking on the role of Ferrand, the director of "Meet Pamela," is Truffaut himself. He makes Ferrand into a professional, unassuming, and likable figure--it feels as though Truffaut put a lot of himself into his role. So it takes some conscious effort to disentangle Truffaut from Ferrand, but once that happens, Truffaut's astounding achievements become clear. As co-writer of the screenplay, Truffaut had a hand in everything that is said; as director of "Day for Night," he set up every shot in the movie. Even the shots in which he appears as Ferrand. Even the complicated shots that show the backstage workings of a movie set and feel so realistic that it's strange to think of them as having been set up. He shoots "Meet Pamela" unexceptionally, usually with a static camera (Ferrand-style) while the "real-life" scenes use hand-held cameras and other exciting techniques (Truffaut-style). It would probably take multiple viewings to appreciate all of what Truffaut did here.
I suppose this means that "Day for Night" is a noteworthy example of the "auteur theory." But that sounds like too dry and academic a summary for a movie that was made not only with superb skill, but also with a palpable love for cinema and love for life.
- A classic love poem to filmmaking, witty, elegant, humane and entrancing 1/10/2004 12:00:00 AM by mjkarlin
Many movies have been made about moviemaking but none surpass Day for Night (La Nuit Américaine) for its humanity, its warmth and its genuine feel for Director Fran?ois Truffaut's approach to his art and craft. The film follows Truffaut, in effect playing himself, as he makes a somewhat banal little romance called "Meet Pamela" (Je Vous Présente Pamela) with Jacqueline Bisset, Jean Pierre Aumont, Valentina Cortese (who was nominated for and should have won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) and Jean-Pierre Léaud. It conveys the chaos of filmmaking process in front of and behind the camera and behind the scenes.
There are occasional false notes - the production manager's wife who insists on being on the shoot and watches disapprovingly as the cast and crew move in and out of each other's rooms, as funny as she is, simply doesn't ring true to the film - but in so many more cases, the details, the emotions, the mad combination of giddiness, passion and meticulousness that are needed to make a film, are captured so as to make you forget the slightly dated early 70s look. And Jacqueline Bisset is timelessly stunning in this film.
Minor notes: The movie launched the film career of Nathalie Baye as the continuity girl - her first major role; Graham Greene, the great English novelist (The Quiet American, Brighton Rock, etc.) had an uncredited cameo as the Insurance Agent - Truffaut directed the scene but did not know who the actor was until after the shot was in the can; Maurice Séveno, who appears briefly as a TV reporter, was a well-know French TV news anchor in the 60s and 70s; the score by Georges Delerue, who collaborated on many Truffaut movies, is lovely without being cloying.
- Cinema Reine! 12/15/2007 12:00:00 AM by slokes
"No sentimentality - just play notes!" is the instruction we hear over the credits that open "Day For Night". About three seconds later, we see silent film stars Dorothy and Lillian Gish striking highly theatrical poses, with a signed inscription by director Francois Truffaut saying the film has been dedicated to them.
So is sentimentality a good thing or a bad thing? Truffaut may be playing it both ways, yet "Day For Night" makes a great argument in both directions. You need to feel something to pour so much heart and soul into movie-making, but you also need to be hard-hearted, say for example if an actor dies before a film is wrapped or a cat won't drink milk on cue. "Day For Night" strikes an amazing balance between hard and soft, happy and sad, comedy and tragedy, and in the end offers a unique take not only on movies but on life itself.
"What a funny life we lead," says the aging starlet Severine (Valentina Cortese), summing up "Day For Night's" take on the ephemerality of both departments. "We meet, we work together, we love each other, and then, as soon as we grasp something - pfft - it's gone. See?" But if there is some consolation in Truffaut's view, it is the companionship life offers, especially on a film set, where families of intense passion and strength can sprout up in an instant.
Cortese is a treat, with both her sweetness and her lighter moments. Severine tries to make a dramatic exit in one scene but keeps opening a closet door. Everyone in this film shines in some way, selling you utterly on the idea you are not watching a movie but eavesdropping on a real set, even as Truffaut constantly makes references to the fact "Day For Night" is a movie. Jacqueline Bisset plays an actress known for being in "that movie with the car chase" while Jean-Pierre Léaud's character's girlfriend complains "he wants the whole world to pay for his unhappy childhood."
Truffaut was responsible for Léaud's unhappy childhood, of course, but, avoiding sentimentality, makes his young actor protégé more of a heavy and comic foil this time out, playing not Antoine this time but another fellow named Alphonse. Léaud rewards his director with a genuinely funny take-off on his intensity from other Truffaut films.
I also love Bisset, who as Julie gives the film a bit of real heart as the one character who has something of a life beyond movies, with a middle-aged lover she cares for almost sheepishly. Yet it is she who exemplifies "the show must go on" by risking her life outside the picture in order to save the picture itself.
Even Truffaut does a good turn as a major character, playing a film director. Truffaut always worked best as a slightly ruffled authority figure, here urging a tipsy Severine not to go through her difficult scene reciting numbers: "In France, we have to say the lines!"
There's very little I would want to change in this film, not even the garish 1970s clothes which give this film an appropriate aura of informality. It's soapy, yes, but so's life at times, and like life, it really makes you want to stick around for the moments it gets right. Sentiment may be dangerous to performance, but it seems worth having around in the end.