[Originally published in Movietone News 30, March 1974]
Truffaut’s Day for Night is a delight. It’s a film about some people making a film, with Truffaut himself playing the film-within-a-film’s director, but there’s only a little cinematic selfconsciousness in it. Above all, it is a very charming entertainment. Few, if any, of Truffaut’s films have had such a heady feeling of joy and pleasure all the way through. And few, if any, of the various films made about filmmakers and filmmaking have been so self-effacing. Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Jean-Pierre Aumont and Valentina Cortese play the actors in the film of one M. Ferrand (Truffaut) and each to some extent has been given a role (in Day for Night) which evokes his “real-life” image. But while Truffaut gives the Ferrand character three dream sequences in which a small boy—Ferrand and/or Truffaut as child?—steals some Citizen Kane stills from a theater display, the film is not really Truffaut’s 8 1/2.
The personal problems dealt with are mostly the actors’ and the focus is on the director’s efforts to catalyze the group chemistry needed and to complete the production. Fellini’s concern with acts of the imagination as forms of self-integration is replaced here by Truffaut’s concern with acts of human understanding as a means of professional survival. Truffaut is actually much closer to the romantic pragmatism of some of Vincente Minnelli’s showbiz movies (The Band Wagon, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Two Weeks in Another Town), but the modesty and humor of this film are uniquely his. Not the least of its charms is that it so engagingly undercuts the pretensions of an era which seems to take its filmmakers very seriously or not at all. Also among the film’s pleasures are Jean-Pierre Léaud’s admirable self-parody and the contributions of a feisty scriptgirl played by Nathalie Baye. (It is perhaps no coincidence that partial credit for Day for Night‘s screenplay is given to Suzanne Schiffman who, if memory serves, has scriptgirl credits on other Truffaut films.) The moment I liked best comes when the Bisset character’s performance is “directed” by an offscreen event which moves her in just the way that Ferrand/Truffaut had been looking for. Little fillips like these recur as Truffaut playfully juggles illusion and reality, but for me the most striking thing of all is that this pleasantly nuanced foreign film is the best entertainment film of the year . When you look up and find two “art film” guys like Truffaut and Claude Chabrol as the current (and sole surviving?) masters of what’s left of the traditional movie, you begin to understand how much times have changed.
DAY FOR NIGHT (La Nuit américaine)
Direction: François Truffaut. Screenplay: Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard, Suzanne Schiffman. Cinematography: Pierre-William Glenn. Music: Georges Delerue.
The Players: Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Valentina Cortese, François Truffaut, Nathalie Baye, Alexandra Stewart, Dani, Nike Arrighi, David Markham, Jean Champion, Graham Greene.
Copyright © 1974 Peter Hogue