Day for Night (1973) A-
"Day for Night" may not be a great film, or one of Truffaut's very best pictures, but it's nonetheless a gem, a loving tribute to filmmaking and one of the most poignant and good-hearted films made about the chaotic process of making pictures.
Inspired by Fellini's Oscar-winning "8/12," "Day for Night" is personal, even autobiographical work in which Truffaut engages in a love affair with cinema qua cinema, trying to share this contagious joy with his public. Truffaut plays a famous film director named Ferrand, who is in the midst of helming "I Want You to Meet Pamela," (aka "Meet Pamela"), a feature shot in and around the La Victorine studios in South France.
But, for better or worse, the movie in not about Ferrand—it's about his cast and crew and the actors who play those roles. First comes Truffaut's alter-ego, temperamental actor named Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Leaud who collaborated with Truffaut in a series of films about Antoine Doinel beginning with "The 400 Blows"). Alphonse wanders around the set with typical Truffaut-like question, "Are women really magic?" (Try to answer that!)
The international cast of thespians includes Julie (Jacqueline Bisset), a famous Hollywood actress recovering from a nervous breakdown, about to arrive with her husband-doctor. She is to co-star with Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Aumont), a veteran actor, a "continental lover" in the mold of Charles Boyer, though he may be a latent homosexual.
Most colorful and memorable is Severine (played to the hilt by the Italian actress Valentina Cortese), a loud, alcoholic Italian actress, who once was a great screen lover opposite Alexandre, but now cannot remember even the simplest line of dialogue. Then there's Stacey (Alexandra Stewart), a bit player whose pregnancy causes scheduling and shooting problems.
Behind the scenes crew includes the inarticulate prop man Bernard (Bernard Menez); the flaky and chatty makeup girl Odile (Nike Arrighi); the script girl Lilianna (Dani), who doesn't care about the film and got the job because she slept with Alphonse; unit manager Lajoie (Gaston Joly); producer Bertrand (Jean Champion); and the all-important production assistant, Joelle (the very young Nathalie Baye, who would become a major star in a couple of years).
As in every Truffaut film, the characters, and the actors who play them, are far more significant than the plot, which is slender, like a skeleton. Running around, Ferrand tries to keep his head above his shoulders, so that the production will stay on track and under budget. But he's facing an endless sream of crises, created by his emotionally unstable and vulnerable actors, who are like children. Thus, Alphonse and Julie make a mistake by sleeping together for one night.
Godard (and others) have criticized the film, claiming that, as a director, Truffaut hides behind his alter ego Ferrand, and he interacts only professionally with his cast and crew. Ferrand remains an enigma and we never find out what troubles him as a person, which gives him an aura of superiority, as if he is above the "petty" and "mundane" concerns of his players.
Replete with inside jokes and poignant allusions to other films and filmmakers, "Day for Night" is a richly dense, self-reflexive film that goes way beyond its surface narrative. The movie deservedly won the Oscar Award for Best Foreign Language Film and also garnered a directing nomination on Truffaut (see below).
Oscar Nominations: 4
Director: Francois Truffaut
Supporting Actress: Valentina Cortesa
Screenplay (Original): Francois Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard, Suzanne Schiffman
Oscar Awards: 1
Foreign Language Film
The winner of the Best Director Oscar was Coppola for "The Godfather, Part II. Robert Towne received the Original Screenplay Oscar for the noir "Chinatown," directed by Polanski.
Ingrid Bergman won the Supporting Actress Oscar for Sidney Lumet's thriller, "Murder on the Orient Express." In her acceptance speech, she apologized to Cortesa for winning the prize.
In 1973, the 18th year of the foreign-language Oscar category, the five nominees were:
Day for Night (France)
The House on Chelouche Street (Israel)
The Pedestrian (Federal Republic of Germany)
Turkish Delight (the Netherlands)
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