Plot: What’s it about?
The production of Meet Pamela has just started, so cast and crew members are all in a hustle to get things underway. The film is a tragic love story, directed by Ferrand (Francois Truffaut) and it deals with a woman who falls in love with someone, but this someone is a person who maybe shouldn’t be on her list. As a little passes, the production finds some success, but problems begin to emerge with little haste. So Ferrand finds himself surrounded by woes of all kinds, but he has to overcome in order to finish the production. The leading lady Julie (Jacqueline Bisset) is gorgeous and talented, but she is getting over a recent nervous breakdown and by turn, there is some doubts about her presence. At the same time, the male lead Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Leaud) brings his girlfriend in to work on the production, but his jealous traits cause additional problems. As if that wasn’t enough, aging screen star Severine (Valentina Cortese) is so plastered, she forgets her lines and has emotional outbursts instead. Add in troubles with the insurance firms, union workers, and a cat who won’t find its mark, and Ferrand has the weight of the world on his shoulders. Can he somehow manage to inspire his actors, settle the technical problems, and deliver his film as promises, or is there simply too much tension?
This movie took home the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1973, but has it been able to hold up over the years? I think it holds as much impact as ever, as it still provides entertainment and a number of magical moments. We’ve all seen movies about the movie business, but in Day for Night, we have one of the finest examples. As directed by the great Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim), this picture contains an endless chain of mishaps and disasters, from financial woes to union problems to animal actors. These troubles are played out in basic fashion however, as this is neither a comedy of errors nor a dramatic struggle. Yes, we see the cast and crew in all sorts of troublesome times, but don’t expect a wry comedy like Living in Oblivion or a cynical effort like Robert Altman’s The Player. Instead, this movie presents those involved as a sort of family, living together to create something special. Even when things turn sour, they push ahead and look beyond the downfalls, at least most of the time. In Day for Night, we follow the production from start to finish, seeing all the pitfalls in between. I had a wonderful time sitting down with this film again, as it is so warm and enjoyable. So whether you love foreign cinema or are just a rookie, Day for Night is a film that cannot be missed.
Although most people would focus in on Francois Truffaut’s direction, I doubt anyone has said anything new in years. So instead of rehashing what countless others have written, I wanted to say a few lines about the performance of Jacqueline Bisset. Bisset has found some success prior to her work on Day for Night, but this was the performance that put her on the map, at least in European countries. She was known and liked for her good looks here in America, but it would be some time before she was taken as a serious actress. And that makes little sense, since her work here is dynamic in all respects. Yes, her beauty stands out and she has a potent sexual appeal, but her turn here signals immense potential. Even now, Bisset claims this was her most fulfilling role and its not hard to understand why. Other films with Bisset include The Deep, Rich and Famous, Dangerous Beauty, Wild Orchid, and Under the Volcano. The cast also includes Jean-Pierre Aumont (Jefferson in Paris, The Happy Hooker), Valentina Cortese (The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Juliet of the Spirits), and Jean Champion (Coup de Torchon, Cleo From 5 to 7).
Video: How does it look?
Day for Night is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I was very pleased with the treatment here, as this movie has never looked so good on home video. The age of the materials has caused some softness, but aside from that and some light edge enhancement, this transfer looks superb. And I don’t mean just passable either, as Warner has drawn up a great overall visual effort with this release. The colors come across in bright, bold fashion, with minimal fading evident, while flesh tones look warm and consistent. The magic hour shots simply excellent here, with rich golden hues that flow right off the screen at times. The contrast is great too, with stark and well refined black levels at all times. As I said, some minor problems do arise, but this is a terrific transfer and fans will be thrilled.
Audio: How does it sound?
The film’s original French soundtrack is preserved via a mono option, which has some flaws, but sounds more than acceptable. This movie has a lot of dialogue, so aside from the musical score and a few sequences, the audio isn’t asked to do much. I found the music to be clean and mostly solid, though it gets a little harsh at times. Not enough to complain about, but you’ll hear some shrill moments here and there. The various sound effects are in decent order, but this is mono, so don’t expect dynamic presence. As far as dialogue, the vocals are clean and crisp throughout, no problems in the least to report. This disc also includes an English language track, as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A host of supplements have been included, but when all is said and done, there’s not much substance here. A selection of four interview featurettes starts us off, but these run mostly under ten minutes and offer little insight. I was glad to see Jacqueline Bisset involved, but again, these pieces simply lack the kind of depth I expected. A brief vintage featurette is also found here, as well an interview with Truffaut from the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. This disc also includes a newsreel on the film’s success, some talent files, and the film’s theatrical trailer. I am pleased to see some effort put into these extras, but if you’re looking for Criterion Collection style insight, then this assortment of goodies won’t deliver.