Cinéma’s visual vérité
ON THE LAST occasion that the British Film Institute compiled its poll of the greatest ever movies – among the few such charts worth heeding – Michael Dwyer, this paper’s late film correspondent, named Day for Night as one of his own 10 favourites. Happily, a glance at François Truffaut’s 1973 meditation on film-making, reissued this week in a shiny new print, confirms the picture as a knotty, witty gem of the brightest lustre. Self-reflection has never been so pleasurable.
Day for Night (both the English and French titles refers to the practice of shooting evening scenes before dark) details the pleasures and discontents of a crew working on a (possibly not very good) film entitled Meet Pamela. Truffaut himself plays the director. Jean-Pierre Léaud is the young dreamboat and Jacqueline Bisset a neurotic English actor. The usual stresses of film-making are augmented by affairs, pregnancies and car crashes (both literal and figurative).
You could argue that the founders of La Nouvelle Vague, employing post-modernism before the term was fashionable, always made movies about movies. Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless is, as much as anything, a meditation on the potency of popular American cinema. However, Day for Night (along with Godard’s Contempt) attempts to actually engage with the nuts and bolts of the movie-making process.
When novelists start writing about novelists, the reader can be forgiven a weary groan. But the film set is a perfect environment for staging a dramatic narrative: a tight impromptu family of professionals is rammed together for a limited amount of time. Truffaut’s film offers a near-perfect blend of allusive in-jokes and loosely structured, high-quality soap opera.
In a largely negative review, US critic Pauline Kael said Day for Night was for “those who would rather see a movie, any movie (a bad one, a stupid one, or an evanescent, sweet-but-dry little wafer of a movie like this one), than do anything else”. Many readers will view this as an unintended recommendation.
Stars playing stars: Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Léaud