Long day’s dawning
LE JOUR SE LÈVE/ DAYBREAK Directed by Marcel Carné. Starring Jean Gabin, Jules Berry, Arletty, Jacqueline Laurent, Bernard Blier Club, IFI, Dublin 93 min
Noble foundry worker François (Jean Gabin) shoots and kills weirdo circus dog-trainer Valentin (Jules Berry) and barricades himself in the attic. Armed police swarm up the stairs. Dissolving flashbacks reveal François’s love for coquettish flower seller Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent), who in turn, is fascinated by Valentin. As compensation, our working- class hero has an affair with the world-wise Clara (Arletty), Valentin’s former assistant.
Valentin briefly meets with François; François briefly reconciles with Françoise. But we know from the fateful opening sequence, that this love is properly star-crossed.
Marcel Carné’s seminal 1939 film has endured almost as many slings and arrows as its unfortunate protagonist. Months after its release, the Vichy government sought to suppress Le Jour Se Lève (literally, the day, it rises) because it was seen to be “demoralising”. When Hollywood sloppily remade it in 1947 as The Long Night with Henry Fonda, RKO attempted to destroy all copies of the original.
Happily, enough critics had seen and loved Le Jour Se Lève for it to reckon in Sight and Sound’s first top 10 greatest films list in 1952. Upon rediscovery, the film was praised for its formal elegance, as exemplified by the final, implausibly tragic ring of an alarm clock. In common with Carne’s Le Quai des Brumes (1938), the doomed atmospherics work to anticipate France’s defeat by the Germans in 1940. The last movie to emerge from the subgenre of poetic realism shares the same dream-like qualities of L’Atalante, La Grande Illusion and La Règle du Jeu.