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"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 François 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.
François 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.
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 François 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.
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!)
I still think it's my favourite of Truffaut's, even though my French teacher rolled his eyes, thinking I could have picked a more obscure choice! The reason why I love it so much, is that it has so much to it. Not only is it a clever tale of a film inside a film, but Truffaut also gives you a view into his own world, as well as those of his actors and crew. Truffaut provides some advice on being a film maker in a friendly manner, and you get the impression that this person is really interested in engaging with the audience in a down to earth manner. There is development and a little explanation of the characters which have appeared in his earlier films, particularly Antoine, of course, which I liked, although it's not completely on a plate of course. All in all, def worth a watch.
François Truffaut's La Nuit Américaine is one of the most remarkable
achievements in the "film within the film" genre. The movie stars
Truffaut himself (who else could possibly play the role?) as Ferrand,
an experienced director who's working on a new feature, "Je vous
prèsente Pamela" (I introduce Pamela), and La Nuit Américaine showcases
the difficulties of the production: props not working, actors
struggling to memorize their lines, crew members leaving the project
and scenes that have to be shot various times before Ferrand nails them
(the "bad actor-cat" scene is a must-see). You know the bloopers that
are sometimes included on the DVDs? Same thing, only funnier. Truffaut
is brilliant in showing how different an actor can be from his
on-screen persona (Jean-Pierre Léaud is outstanding as selfish, spoiled
Alphonse), the cast and crew's private lives affecting or being
affected by the making of the film, and how the slightest detail can
change an otherwise foolproof schedule.
The most intriguing aspect of this movie, however, is perhaps the autobiographical elements the director has added: it basically sums up Truffaut's entire career, with references to his previous masterpieces (Léaud's presence being the most obvious one), and he has clearly based the character of Ferrand on himself (the flashback with the then 9-year old film lover stealing pictures of Citizen Kane is pure movie magic). He fascinates us so much we don't immediately realize the film was made under the same circumstances as the fictitious flick the characters are trying to achieve.
A flawless love letter to cinema, La Nuit Américaine should be on everyone's must-see list. Thirty years on, it has lost none of its appeal.
In Nice, the Studios La Victorine is producing the film "Je Vous
Presente Pamela", about a French man that marries the English Pamela in
England and brings his wife to France to introduce her to his parents.
However, his father and Pamela fall in love with each other and she
leaves her husband to live with her father-in-law. The producer
Bertrand (Jean Champion) and the director Ferrand (François Truffaut)
invite the British Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset), who had a nervous
breakdown and married her Dr. Nelson (David Markham), to the role of
Along the shooting, the cast and crew are lodged in the Hotel Atlantic and Bertrand and Ferrand have to deal with problems with the stars Severine (Valentina Cortese), an aging artist with drinking problems that affect her performance; the immature, spoiled and needy Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud); Julie that is emotionally unstable. But in the end, they succeed to complete the film.
"La Nuit Américaine" is a film about making a film and a great tribute to the cinema. This is one of my favorite Truffaut's films and the last time I saw it was on 08 January 2001.
It is impossible to highlight performances in this film, but the mesmerizing beauty of Jacqueline Bisset shines. Jean-Pierre Léaud performs his usual role of an insecure man, using the same gestures of Antoine Doinel.
In 1992, Louis Malle explored the storyline of "Je Vous Presente Pamela" in "Damage". My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "A Noite Americana" ("The American Night")
"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.
Truffaut's movie, dedicated to two great silent stars Lilian and
Dorothy Gish, is very specific since it shows how a movie is being made
from a technical as well as personal point of view. The content may
seem to be boring for some people. However, it is not exactly so for
many people since lots of us would like to see the real wings of a film
and Truffaut's movie does a perfect job in this aspect.
The cast are generally good but the quality of performances is raised by very few individuals. The actors and actresses have a double work to do: to play in the film which is being shot, MAY I INTRODUCE PAMELA, as well as to play in DAY FOR NIGHT. Jacqueline Bisset is supposedly the main star of the film. Yet, she is far from best. Sometimes, it is felt that she cannot combine her role in DAY FOR NIGHT with her role of Pamela. She looks confused at switching to two different realities. There are some less famous French cast, like Dani or Jean-Pierre Aumont, who do a good job, but do not appear to be particularly memorable. However, the person who absolutely shines in her role is, in my opinion, Valentina Cortese. The Italian stage and movie actress, born in Milan, was cast by such great directors as Antonioni, Fellini, and Zeffirelli. She was always very good. But here, in Truffaut's movie, she gives one of her very finest performances. She beautifully combines the role of an actress and the role of Alfonso's mother. It's just a perfect flow between these two. I have watched the entire film twice, but the scenes with Ms Cortese - ten times. Her facial expressions in the portrayal of Severine, an alcoholic desperate movie star, her constant forgetting of the lines and opening wrong door, her whole acting REALLY DESERVE AWARDS!
Since the film's content deals with making movies, I would like to concentrate on one more aspect: how it really shows movie making and people who take part in it. Here, I must say that Truffaut did something unforgettable and universal. While watching DAY FOR NIGHT, a viewer is led to a wonderful journey into the core of film making. One can see, for instance, the scene shooting, problems with direction, writing the script, the private problems of the cast, the way others perceive the works, director's real devotion, including ultimate work - "Who is a director?...Someone who is constantly being asked". Finally, the film touches the most serious problem: what happens if an actor dies during filming... This is something that happens rather rarely (thank goodness); yet, it's double tragedy. Truffaut also develops the characters of actors and actresses - these are not only people who act but complex individuals.
I recommend DAY FOR NIGHT to those people who are interested in film-making. Truffaut did a piece of marvelous job and I am glad that Valentina Cortese was cast by him and her performance resulted in awards. She really deserves it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Start with the notion that film has life. Film life has its own cosmology and energy that adapts and sustains.
Stripped of all the unnecessary bumph, this is the notion behind the New Wave, the Old New Wave that is. At first, they mistook this life for real life, or something like it. So they developed an elaborate, Italian-inspired theory of truth, meaning that the camera sees and conveys truth in real life, presented journalistically. Or, as they would hope, naturalistically.
Truffault struggled with this limit in his writing and then filmmaking, Godard as well -- each coming to a different solution. Truffault's new insight was to rediscover the notion of reflexive layers, first developed by Welles in "Kane." This is his essay on his discovery and so far as the placement of narrative was far more influential than anything of Welles.
The notion of journalistic truth was out, but the core belief of film AS life stayed. Not depicting or discovering life, but creating it. There is a relationship between ordinary life and film life, so why not make a film with precisely those two worlds? Why not add another layer: real, real life.
So we have the real real world which consists of director Truffault and a collection of actors. We have the film real world where they play a director and actors, and we have the film film world of the movie being made. Three levels. This follows what I call Ted's law: the level of abstraction between level 1 and 2 is precisely the same and in the same direction as between levels 2 and 3.
Welles used the notion of constructed realities for his layers, goofed with the camera and ran through the whole menu of narrative devices. Truffault discards the last two and transforms the first: instead of film as an artificial, constructed life, it has its own sort of life that captures people. Pinter would take this step from "Kane" to "Day" the next step with "French Lieutenant's Woman" where each life (of film and "reality") partially constructs the other, and blessing each with greater power. (Almodovar attempts the next step in the same direction with "Tie Me Up" and "Talk to Her.")
Much is made by others of the humanity of the story and the characters, but that is all incidental. Some people are magic, and so they are in film. It is a matter of the magic, not of the people. As a side observation, all the true magicians here are women and the level of their magic is denoted by the redness of their hair. The minor plot points deal with different foibles of that magic, as if it were an "8 1/2" focused on women.
Three scenes particularly stand out for me:
-- the much celebrated scene where Truffault sets Julie's hands (but watch the movement of Truffault's hands)
-- the non-magical kitty who can't cross boundaries into the next world and is replaced with the "set cat" by our ubermagical Joellne
-- the children playing a card game where everyone in the film (the real film) is a card operating under clear rules
The dream sequence borrowed from Bergman was also a nice, if esoteric touch.
Watch this. It changed everything that followed.
Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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