Day for Night (1973) Directed by Francois Truffaut. Written by Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard and Suzanne Schiffman. Jean-Pierre Leaud, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Jacqueline Bisset. 116 min.
“I’ve been asked a hundred times this year: ‘Aren’t you afraid of ruining the mystery of a craft you’re so fond of?’ and each time I’ve replied that an aviator can explain everything he knows about piloting a plane, but he will never succeed in demystifying the intoxication of flight.”
Francois Truffaut fell in love with the movies at an early age. He watched them obsessively, wrote about them passionately and eventually created them with innovative verve. He and his fellow critics at Cahiers du Cinema adored American films for their directness and energy. “Day for night” is a technique using photographic filters to make daylight resemble night, in French, both the process and the title of the film is La Nuit Americaine (American Night).
Confusion between fiction and reality is the film’s subject. Day for Night is also a record of Truffaut’s directorial method; “I made Day for Night like a documentary, and there is very little difference between the shooting I show and that of my films.” The abandoned set of an American film, The Madwoman of Chaillot, inspired him to stage his own film within a film there, albeit on a more luxurious scale than that to which he was accustomed. “ my intent was to make the audience happy on seeing a film in the making, to infuse joy and lightheartedness from all the sprocket holes of the film, ‘Moi, jaime le cinema.'”
Day for Night‘s crew is passionately shooting a trifle called Meet Pamela as if it was going to be a masterpiece. Truffaut felt that sometimes the filmmaking process was more interesting than the result. In one of his early films, La Peau Douce, Francoise Dorleac puts a breakfast tray outside a door, and a kitten comes up to explore. In Day for Night, one of the most charming episodes involves the travails of cat wrangling, as a kitten refuses repeatedly to cooperate in a similar scene. “At such moments–for example, when it takes no less that two assistants concealed at either side of the bed to hold down the sheets that fly around when a couple of actors are miming physical love–the director can’t help but say to himself that the film of the film would be a lot more lively than the film itself.” This thought certainly comes to mind while reading Kevin Bacon’s detailed journal of his make-up travails for The Hollow Man in two recent issues of Entertainment Weekly.
Jean-Pierre Leaud had been Truffaut’s alter-ego since The 400 Blows. In the early 70s Truffaut had encouraged him to work with other directors, like Bernardo Bertolucci in Last Tango in Paris. Leaud’s character in Day for Night is written to be as vulnerable as he was in his life st the time, and his relationship with Meet Pamela‘s director is modeled on his with Truffaut. Jacqueline Bisset was a girl of the moment, having played decoratively in films like Bullitt with Steve McQueen. She was nervous about speaking French in the film, but Truffaut assured her that her uncertainty was important to her character. Bissett’s usual salary in 1972 was equivalent to the entire budget of Day for Night. Truffaut’s difficulty in separating his life from his art often led him into affairs with his leading ladies. His liason with Bisset began during the filming, lasted through Bisset’s next film in France, and continued when she returned to Los Angeles, where Truffaut often visited one of his idols, director Jean Renoir.
“There are directors who boast of never going to the movies, but myself, I go all the time. And I am forever marked by the films I discovered before becoming a filmaker, when I could take them in more fully. If, for example, in the course of Day for Night I pay special homage to Citizen Kane, it is because that film, released in Paris in July 1946, changed both the cinema and my own life. Through the young actor played by Jean-Pierre Leaud, I am always coming back to the question that has tormented me for thirty years now: is cinema more important than life?”