Day for Night / Nuit Américaine, Le (1973)

“Shooting a movie is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. At first you hope for a nice trip; soon you just hope to reach your destination.”

Synopsis:
With his loyal script girl (Nathalie Baye) by his side, a director (Francois Truffaut) making an innocuous romantic drama in Nice experiences seemingly endless troubles with his stars — including a young male lead (Jean-Pierre Leaud) whose infatuation with a sexy apprentice (Dani) serves as a constant distraction; a young female lead (Jacqueline Bisset) recovering from a mental breakdown; an older male lead (Jean-Pierre Aumont) with a secret love life; and an older female lead (Valentina Cortese) with a drinking problem.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Francois Truffaut’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film” is “as intricately constructed as Nashville,” “giving us glimpses into the chaotic lives of the various members of cast and crew (and their companions) who all seem to be sleeping with each other”. He notes that “the film debunks myths about the glamour of the movies”, given that “the performers are emotional wrecks, filming is done out of sequence and in bits and pieces, prompt cards are taped to walls, [and] night scenes are filmed in the day”. He argues that the “film is, surprisingly, a tribute to actors, who are insecure, vulnerable, and constantly suffering, yet are generous and sacrificing” — but I don’t quite agree; instead, what stands out to me is the critical role played on set by the non-glamorous assistants, as epitomized by Truffaut’s script girl (Baye), who is constantly at his side, on the move, and willing to step in as needed to rectify the (at times) ridiculous or seemingly hopeless situations that emerge.

Regardless, Day for Night remains a delightfully absorbing backstage drama, one which almost instantly makes us (as viewers) regret any criticism we heap upon “poor” filmmakers, given what a miracle it apparently is that anything noteworthy ever emerges from their efforts. In addition to a classic scene involving a kitten who refuses to drink the milk placed in front of it, the most memorable instance of such insanity is the tragic yet hilarious extended sequence in which drunk Cortese attempts in vain to remember her lines and open up the correct door; to that end, Cortese perfectly embodies an aging diva desperate to maintain her dignity while clearly on the path towards irreparable decline, and Jean-Pierre Aumont is equally well-cast as her past-and-present romantic co-star. Much less involving is the storyline involving Leaud’s callow, self-absorbed young star; his single-minded passion for a free-spirited young woman (Dani) is simply a distraction. However, Bisset gives a fine, vulnerable performance as the female star of the film, who doesn’t arrive on set until fairly late in the film but remains a dominant presence. She’s never been lovelier (and her French is quite remarkable).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jacqueline Bisset as Julie
  • Valentina Cortese as Severine
  • Nathalie Baye as Joelle
  • A fascinating, amusing look at behind-the-scenes film-making

  • Georges Delerue’s score

Must See?
Yes, as one of Truffaut’s most enjoyable movies, and an invaluable glimpse at both the joys and struggles inherent in film-making.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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