Director: François Truffaut
Day for Night (La Nuit Américaine in French) is the expression that designs a scene in a movie that is supposed to take place at night but is shot in daytime with a special camera filter. This shows all the hassle filmmakers go through to put their vision into images. Very little of what we see on screen is any real, as we get to understand in this fascinating movie from Nouvelle Vague cineaste François Truffaut. He stars himself as (what else) a director currently shooting melodrama “Je Vous Présente Pamela” in Nice. What’s amazing is how Truffaut stages a movie within a movie, as we see both the “Pamela” flick and all that goes on behind the scenes. Overall, one of the things you realize is how unfair cinema is, when you know that even the worst films necessitate a lot of work. The movie we see this cast and crew making doesn’t appear to be very interesting. It’s about this French guy Alphonse who got married to an English girl, Pamela, and didn’t tell his parents. Some three months later, he finally introduces her to them, and she falls in love with the father, who’s then killed by his jealous son.
Of course, we don’t follow that story straightforward. Movies are never shot in chronological order, so we see all the little pieces of “Pamela” as they’re shot. Plus, and that’s where it gets fascinating, we see how they make it happen. But this isn’t just a glamorous, factitious making of. We really get to see what making movies is like. I myself wrote and directed a few shorts and I’m telling you, it’s fulfilling and fun some of the time, but it can also be a huge pain in the ass. As a director, you’ve got to constantly answer the questions of everyone but the thing is, you don’t always know the answers! Because when people make movies, they don’t just take the reality as it is. They create or arrange sets, select the right props and costumes. And then you round up the necessary actors and extras and have them move around and act, or maybe you have to simulate rain or snow, stage stunts or special effects, and of course think about photography and lighting, camera movements, sound…
Truffaut’s insightful film shows realistically and entertainingly all of this, and how complicated things can get (you’ll see how long it takes to shoot a cat licking milk!), but it’s visible that Truffaut loves cinema anyway. A movie shoot involves taking a lot of strangers and having them work and literally live together for weeks. Tensions can occur, but Day for Night also shows us that they can become a family, or even more. The lead actor (Jean-Pierre Leaud) goes out with the script girl, but she leaves him for a stunt man. The English actress playing Pamela (Jacqueline Bisset) is married to the doctor who helped her during her breakdown, but the couple is almost destroyed after she sleeps with Leaud to cheer him up after he’s dumped. And then there’s the woman who plays the mother who drinks a bit too much, a supporting actress who tries to hide that she’s pregnant… And what about “the money”, or as they call themselves the producers, who have all these exigencies concerning when the film has got to be done and all.
“Day for Night” is truly a wonderful film. It’s fun in all the little things it reveals about moviemaking as well as in the characters we meet. The film is really well crafted and always interesting. I enjoyed particularly how you get to see simultaneously actors doing a scene and all the little things the crew have to arrange around it. Truffaut is smart enough to see both the good, the bad and the ugly in the process of making a film, and he does so entertainingly. I like how his character says at one point “When I begin a film, I wanna make a great film. Halfway through, I just hope to finish the film.” Well, Truffaut did finish his film. And it is great!