Day for Night (La nuit américaine)

Day for Night
(La nuit américaine)
Director: François Truffaut
Screenplay: François Truffaut & Jean-Louis Richard & Suzanne Schiffman
Stars: Jacqueline Bisset (Julie Baker), Valentina Cortese (Séverine), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Alexandre), Dani (Liliane, la stagiaire scripte), Jean Champion (Bertrand, le producteur), Alexandra Stewart (Stacey), Jean-Pierre Léaud (Alphonse), Nathalie Baye (Joëlle, la scripte), François Truffaut (Ferrand, le réalisateur), Graham Greene (L’assureur anglais), David Markham (Doctor Nelson), Bernard Menez (Bernard, l’accessoiriste), Nike Arrighi (Odile, la maquilleuse), Gaston Joly (Lajoie, le régisseur), Xavier Saint-Macary (Christian)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1973
Country: France / Italy
 Day for Night Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Day for NightDay for Night (La nuit américaine) is François Truffaut’s love letter to filmmaking. Unlike fellow European art film auteur Federico Fellini, whose (1963) was a comical fantasia about the torment of artistic stasis, Day for Night is a simple (although not simplistic) celebration of the practical art of film—the physicality of celluloid running through the camera, the multiple takes required to capture just the right moment, the lights and the clapboards and sets and dolly tracks and cranes and all the equipment that we never see, but is responsible for transforming life into cinema.

In his memoir The Films in My Life Truffaut famously wrote that he “demand[s] that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema.” Day for Night is about both—literally and figuratively. At its best, the film reveals, celebrates, and makes palpable the physical nature of filmmaking, showing us all the various activities that take place behind the camera or just outside its view. It is a kind of compendium of cinematic techniques, but Truffaut keeps it from feeling like a practitioner’s travelogue by infusing it with his own passion for the medium.

Truffaut cast himself as the film-within-a-film’s director, Ferrand, a thinly veiled, perhaps idealized, depiction of Truffaut’s own directorial persona. Like Truffaut, Ferrand has books about great filmmakers (Hitchcock, Bresson, Lubitsch, Bergman, etc.) sent to him on the set, and the American-backed film he is making, a drama about a young man whose father and fiancée fall in love with each other, is very much like the kind of film Truffaut might have made (several shots explicitly reproduce shots from his fourth film, 1964’s The Soft Skin, which was criticized as an unfortunate break from his previous New Wave masterpieces). As the actor playing the young man in the film, Truffaut self-referentially cast Jean-Pierre Léaud, who played the autobiographical protagonist in Truffaut’s directorial debut The 400 Blows (1959) and all the subsequent Antoine Doinel films, as well as Two English Girls (1971). Ferrand, who wears a hearing aid on his sleeve, is fully immersed in the act of creation, and therefore does not get caught up in interpersonal drama that consume those around him. He is a steady presence, guiding the production through various bumps and difficulties, never losing his temper or his nerve. Yet, the very fact that Ferrand is so emotionally cut off, occupied only with his directorial duties, can be seen as a mode of self-critique, suggesting that the hermetically sealed world of artistic creation has its own limitations.

Unfortunately, much of the drama in Day for Night is not terribly engaging, although it is just interesting enough to keep the film moving forward. The various issues faced by cast and crew are somewhat clichéd, falling into familiar categories: the aging diva, the insecure young actor, the frustrated assistant, and so forth. It is a fundamentally democratic film in that none of the characters’ stories takes precedence over the others; it is very much an ensemble film, reminding us that film production is a collective effort in which in any one collaborator’s problems has a ripple effect on everyone.

Jacqueline Bisset plays Julie Baker, an American actress who is the star of the film (she plays the fiancée) and arrives under a cloud of intrigue and controversy as the tabloids have been reporting that she recently had a nervous breakdown. Whatever potential problems she may represent are more than matched by Séverine (Valentina Cortese), an older actress who is playing opposite Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Aumont), with whom she starred in a Hollywood film years earlier and with whom she had an affair and a stormy fall-out. Insecure about her age and place in the world of film, Séverine frequently takes to the bottle, leading to such alternately funny and pathetic scenes as her having to do take after take of a scene because she keeps trying to walk into a closet. Romantic idealism is embodied in Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud), who plays the cuckolded young man in the film-within-a-film. He is recently engaged to Liliane (Dani), a script girl who aspires to bigger and better things, including someone less emotionally wrought than Alphonse. There are other characters, as well—the concerned producer, a crew member whose wife is so worried about him messing around that she stays with him on set all day, a script supervisor who prizes movies above personal relationships, and so on.

The people, though, aren’t really the point. No, Day for Night is about the special magic of filmmaking, an intricate process of deception that, when done well, creates a seamless experience that is like no other (the title refers to the technique of creating the illusion of a night scene by shooting during the day with the use of special filters). Ironically, Day for Night manages to maintain that sense of magic even as it pulls the curtain away so we can observe the otherwise hidden labor going about its business. In today’s era of online featurettes and Blu-ray supplements, the magic of movies is hardly a secret, which makes Truffaut’s accomplishment in Day for Night all the more impressive.

Day for Night Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.66:1
AudioFrench Linear PCM 1.0 monaural
  • “Dreams of Cinema,” visual essay by filmmaker :: kogonada
  • Video interview with cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn Glenn
  • Video interview with assistant editor Martine Barraqué
  • Video interview with film scholar Dudley Andrew
  • Day for Night: An Appreciation,” documentary from 2003 hosted by film scholar Annette Insdorf
  • Archival interviews with director François Truffaut, editor Yann Dedet, and actors Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nathalie Baye, Jacqueline Bisset, Dani, and Bernard Menez
  • “Truffaut: A View from the Inside,” 1973 documentary
  • Three archival television broadcasts about the film
  • Trailer
  • Essay by critic David Cairns
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateAugust 18, 2015

    Warner’s 2003 DVD of Day for Night has been long out of print, so Criterion’s new Blu-ray fills a major void in Truffaut’s filmography on home video. It also offers a substantial improvement in presentation quality, as the new high-definition 2K digital transfer, which was supervised by director of photography Pierre-William Glenn and taken from a 35mm interpositive, looks outstanding. The image is solid in terms of detail and contrast, and colors looks much improved over the previous DVD edition. Digital restoration at multiple levels has left the image virtually flawless and looking brand-new. The monaural soundtrack, transferred at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic tracks and digitally restored, sounds very good, as well.

    Criterion has truly loaded the supplements on Day for Night, finding an almost perfect balance between the new and the archival. New stuff includes an illuminating 12-minute visual essay by the filmmaker :: kogonada called “Dreams of Cinema,” which analyzes the role of the film’s three dream sequences and their significance to the film’s themes and to Truffaut personally. There are also three new video interviews: one with cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn (13 min.) and one with assistant editor Martine Barraqué (13 min.), both of whom reminisce about making the film, and one with film scholar Dudley Andrew (20 min.), who talks in depth about how Day for Night set off a friendship-ending feud between Truffaut and fellow French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard. From Warners’ 2003 DVD we have “Day for Night: An Appreciation,” a 17-minute retrospective documentary on the film hosted by film scholar Annette Insdorf, and from the archives we have interviews with Truffaut (8 min.), editor Yann Dedet (3 min.), and actors Jean-Pierre Aumont (6 min.), Nathalie Baye (12 min.), Jacqueline Bisset (9 min.), Dani (4 min.), and Bernard Menez (3 min.). Also from the archive we get “Truffaut: A View from the Inside,” a short 1973 documentary about the making of the film that features footage of Truffaut on the set, three archival television broadcasts about the film, and a theatrical trailer.

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    Overall Rating: (3)

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