Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Day for Night is a light and warm look at filmmaking on the French side of the fence. Rather than make
an introspective mirror-movie of his own psychological condition as did Fellini, Francois Truffaut
instead uses the opportunity to express everything he loves about the excitement of movie-making. He's in
the picture and much of the action centers on him, but the real focus is on his tempermental actors
and the filming process itself.
Meet Pamela is starting to shoot in Nice and director Ferrand (Francois Truffaut)
has just learned his shooting schedule has been cut. His cast is a handful of personal problems: an aging
actress who turns to drink (Valentina Cortese), a leading lady who just had a nervous
breakdown (Jacqueline Bisset), a youthful male lead who is immature and reckless (Jean-Pierre Léaud)
and an older leading man with his own romantic secrets (Jean-Pierre Aumont). Fortunately, Ferrand also has
good help on his side in his assistant director (Nathalie Baye) and costume girl (Nike Arrighi),
and his jack-of-all-trades propman (Bernard Menez). But can he wade through the various romances and
tantrums and get his movie made?
Movies about movies being made are, in general, a pretty phony lot. Technical reality is usually
ignored and the process of making a take is often misrepresented as shamelessly as in the old MGM musical
On an Island with You. The director in that film says 'Action' and we see an entire
sequence with cuts and effects and music unfold before our eyes. Then he says 'Cut', and everyone
Francois Truffaut's excels in presenting amusing or endearing sets of characters. His freewheeling
style doesn't worry about American notions of production value so it's interesting to see him
tackle a project that has to work on so many technical levels. I don't think we ever see a camera
being loaded but we certainly get an inside look at most other details. In one scene, director
Ferrand and his producer even make a quick pass over the production schedule.
Anyone who has seen a moderate-sized American crew working knows that over here,
a film company is like an occupying army with seemingly hundreds of people milling about, few of
whom seem to be directly involved with anything creative. Day for Night is probably a
pleasant viewing experience for American producers, with its small crew of close friends, actors and
technicians who actually care about the show being made, as opposed to their daily rate.
In show-biz terms, Ferrand's filming unit is like a carnival with the crewpeople coming together for a
brief time but aware of a longer tradition and relationships. Two of the stars in the film were
names in Hollywood at one time (played by stars who also were Hollywood names 20 years before), the
young actor is a selfish flake, and the starlet has a rocky emotional background. But together,
the crew can overcome these issues and function as a unit. The propman may gesture to the
rest of the crew that the leading lady is drunk, but there's no malice in it ... the ever-loyal
assistant director (Nathalie Baye) spreads the word that she's worried because her son is sick.
As with his other pictures, Truffaut doesn't force dramatic conflicts into the story. When the
married actress sleeps with her co-star fireworks are threatened, but the issue settles through
restraint and thoughtfulness from all concerned. There's enough soap to go around,
but it's all communally shared and resolved. Director Ferrand helps smooth out some issues and
knows when to sic his A.D. on a problem ... his concern is his movie, first, second, and always.
Day for Night is the antithesis of the big-deal, overblown histrionics in Two Weeks in Another Town
(which is fun to watch for other reasons).
The director does offer voiceover narration from time to time, giving Truffaut an opportunity to
advance his personal viewpoint. He worries about production problems but sleeps with a
guilt / joy dream of stealing photos from Citizen Kane. He's surrounded by books of film
criticism, especially director studies, a touch which seems rather pat. By the looks of the dumb
drama being filmed, Ferrand is not Truffaut, and the parts we see of Meet Pamela look rather
trite. Worse, production problems cause him to totally change the script. Ferrand says he starts
every shoot hoping to make a great picture and ends by just being grateful to finish at all.
The most successful part of Day for Night is the ensemble feeling. The grand actor turns out
to be a charming trooper. The English actress whose French isn't perfect is accepted with grace.
The callow punk actor (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is tolerated even when he threatens the
production. People sleep together but keep it under control. There's enough of a love
for the work to motivate everyone to pitch in. Only the production manager's suspicious
wife feels the need to make a scene about the behind-the-scenes scandals. She assaults the screen like
the lady in The Birds who accuses Tippi Hedren of being a witch. Outsiders never understand.
Favorite scenes: The crew trying to get an uncooperative kitten to perform. Jacqueline Bisset climbing
a rickety ladder (for real) to reach a high scaffolding where shooting is taking place. The charm of
Day for night is that most everyone we see would do things for Truffaut that
they wouldn't on an ordinary film.
An insurance man who holds up the production near the end is identified as Grahame Greene in the cast list.
According to the IMDB it is indeed Grahame Green, the author of The Quiet American and
The Third Man.
Warners' DVD of Day for Night has been carefully transferred from excellent elements. The colors
are warm and pleasant - earlier video copies were rather grainy, if I recall. The anamorphic enhanced
image looks better than the print I saw in Westwood when it was new. They may have shown the movie
dubbed back then - this disc has both the original French and English dub audio tracks.
The show also comes with a battery of impressive extras. Following the SAG trend away
from lengthier docus, there are instead 4 shorter pieces. Bisset's interview section is lovely, the
analysis by Truffaut author Annette Insdorf a bit dry, and a piece on Truffaut's international
appeal featuring Bob Balaban and Todd McCarthy pleasant. The last short is actually four
separate interviews with actresses Dani and Nathalie Baye, actor Bernard Menez, and the film's editor.
There are also trailers, and two interviews with Truffaut from when the film premiered.
Note: coming up soon from Criterion is a boxed set of Francois Truffaut's
'Léaud' pictures, the
five or six features he made with the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud as he grew up, starting with
The 400 Blows. I've only seen that one and Stolen Kisses and both were marvelous.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Day for Night rates:
Supplements: 4 interview and documentary pieces on the film; trailer, 1974 interview
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: April 4, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson