Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Day 40: Day for Night

Ferrand: Making a film is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. By the halfway point, you just hope to survive.

A pleasing, well-told soap opera, Truffaut’s Day for Night follows the lives of the people involved in the making of a film.  It’s a solid endeavor -- every creative aspect of the movie is fabulous -- and it does effectively demonstrate the hardships involved in trying to create a fiction while the lives of actual people are swirling all around, threatening to derail everything.  And, while the lives of the characters are depicted in a pointed, observant, and watery-eyed honesty, the movie never quite reaches beyond the basics of its story to achieve an element of sublimity other than making movies is hard work.  Still, the rapid pace and solid character beats make it great fun to watch and the tone of the film is infectiously deadpan.  

The movie features a cast of characters whose lives are mostly empty except for the cinema.  With a couple of exceptions, they’re all immersed in the world of cinema and talk about little else (to the point that when the crew is recording background crowd noise by talking to one another, they have to be instructed to talk about something other than movies).  Those characters who have found something in their lives to care about besides film (usually a very bewildered spouse) work on the movie under constant threat that it will be snatched away by the intensity of the filmmaking process.  The movie’s effective at showing how the creative force behind making a movie is so single minded that it is destructive to everything except the film itself.  It also accurately depicts how seductive the worldview of fiction is, as the young lead actor of the film is bewildered when his relationship with his girlfriend doesn’t turn out the way it “should” (he’s constantly asking people the ridiculous question, “do you think women are magic?”).

So, it goes through its paces and hits its beats and the characters are all richly and realistically portrayed and, yeah, I nodded appreciatively throughout, having been in similar situations of love lost and gained backstage in the theatre and on film sets, and, truth be told, I laughed a lot and grinned a lot.  But in an age of DVD special features, offering behind the scenes accessibility to the point of overkill, the truth behind the lie of the movies is not really interesting in and of itself.  And, while, the story is interesting, I kept expecting it to come to some sort-of conclusion and instead it just kind of dissipates, like the fluff of dandelion seeds.  Pretty, but useless… except, of course, to the dandelion.


zora said...

that's my all-time problem with french movies! some of them, i feel, are so enamoured (?!) with their style they neglect their story, if they have one at all. well, i guess that's not a very scientific approach...

(i'm not adding anything to common knowledge by saying that the translation of the french title is american night - that's what europeans call it if you shoot a night scene during day time through a blue filter... you all knew this, didn't you?)

Ash Karreau said...

I think it would be more accurate to say that French films neglect story in favour of emotional tones, rather than style. Style instead of story is the realm of Ridley and Tony Scott, and the creatures who direct Charlie's Angels movies.

Becky said...

Where did you see this film? I've been trying to find it, but it's not on DVD or VHS.