+ Recommended – PG, Comedy, Drama (116 minutes)
Much like Singin in the Rain, François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973) provides exceptional insight into the struggles of troubled film production. Truffaut acts as the director of “Meet Pamela” who is fighting to maintain stability on his film’s set. In many cases the camera tracks his path as he is bombarded with questions from the technical directors, producers, and actors. This constant state of affairs might shock audiences, but to the characters it appears all too common judging by their expression. Pierre-William Glenn’s cinematography pans across the set within the film,showing the scope of production in many scenes. The opening tracks several different people in a bustling city, changing the focus of the scene every few seconds: first a person walking out of the subway, then someone walking across the street, and finally, a pedestrian on the opposite side of the road.
It’s later revealed to be a set, in which the director keeps the actors on their feet doing multiple takes of the same sequence. There are subtle changes in the way each take is presented: timing of extras and the pace at which the character walks. While the characters film their movie, the camera work exposes the set in many different ways. Showing cue cards for the actors, mostly because the script is being written as they shoot, to how scarce some practical sets are in relation to what’s been captured by the camera; when Séverine (Valentina Cortese) is having trouble remembering her lines in a pivotal scene the director hangs cue cards from the wall and another scene in which Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset) is talking to her step parents from across the balcony are a couple that come to mind.
In the climax, the crew is left puzzled after one of the key actors dies suddenly. They are forced to continue filming around the death because the insurance company in charge wouldn’t allow for recasting. It’s a dense, emotional moment for the crew, who, while slightly defective, are a part of a voluntary family now. Yet again, the last day of filming has the actors back on the same set as the beginning, in a square. This time, it’s a death scene that’s being shot on numerous takes, each with minor changes; most notably, added snow for dramatic effect. What Day for Night does best is show everyone how difficult working on a set can be, but also how rewarding the experience is; how minor details can shape the effectiveness of a film.
Truffaut isn’t concerned with length of scenes, either. In one scene, the director is scanning through head shots to find a leading lady, taking his time to show how decisions are made, either carefully or rapid. In many instances, Truffaut utilizes freeze-frames as a catalyst for transitions between scenes and to highlight fleeting moments of time—and thus, breaking up the pace. Little-to-know musical cues are used and while that seems odd for a film that’s basically deconstructing itself, it makes perfect sense. Rather than add an underlying score which will speed up the pacing even more, Truffaut, instead, invites the viewer to join the set with everybody else to empathize with their emotions; coldness, confusion, but also moments of pure joy. It’s explicit, it’s very French, but there are sub-textual elements to Day for Night that extend beyond what is seen.