Day For Night is Francois Truffaut's touching and sweet love letter to the creation of movie making and is one of the most magical experiences of watching a movie about a movie being made. The film chronicles the ups and downs on a film production titled Meet Pamela, which takes place at the Victorine Studio in Nice in the south of France, which has produced movies since the silent era. Meet Pamela is a cliché melodrama that stars Alexandre, (Jean-Pierre Aumont) one of the last remaining romantic screen icons, Severine, a struggling alcoholic and former diva Severine (Valentina Cortese), Alphonse, (Jean- Pierre Laaud) a high emotional young heart-throb, and Julie Baker, (Jacqueline Bisset) a beautiful rising british actress. During the film, the audience is taken behind the cameras along with the ambitious director Ferrand (played by Francois Truffaut himself), as we watch the cast and crew tackle daily every day exhaustion's of making a large expensive studio picture. Julie is recovering from a nervous breakdown along with the sensation of the media for marrying her much older doctor, Alexandre and Severine haven't worked together on a picture in decades because of a steamy love affair that had stirred a lot of unwanted publicity and attention, and Alphonse is in love with the script girl who is having a secret love affair with the stunt double. Behind the scenes, personal privacy is rare as the cast and crew become highly exhausted and emotionally desperate as the audience witnesses secret love affairs, marriages being threatened and later repaired, and emotional breakdowns and locking oneself in their dressing room; all the while the director of the picture is suffering many sleepless nights on the current stresses and responsibilities on making such an ambitious picture.
In the opening credits you can hear the sound of an orchestra working on the temp for the music of Meet Pamela. The first shot of the film is the first day of shooting of Meet Pamela at the Victorine Studios in Nice as Alphonse's character is shown coming out of a subway exit and walking past traffic and pedestrians as he approaches Alexandre's character within the street and stops to slap him. "Cut! Everyone over hear please. We'll do it again, right away!" yells out Ferrand the director though a loudspeaker as they redo the scene several more times and at different angels. Mr. Bertrand is the producer of the film who tries to instruct the background characters and the traffic and also doesn't like to give interviews to the media. After the first day of shooting reporters ask many of the actors and actresses questions on the story of Meet Pamela. Alphonse who is the young male lead says, "It's the story of a young man who marries an English girl."
The Atlantic Hotel in Nice is where several of the actors and actresses stay during shooting and Ferrand receives glossy photos from Bertrand of Julia who is going to be the female lead. Alphonse is having a relationship with his lover Liliane who he invited along with during the filming of the picture and also got her hired as a script girl. The two arrive to the hotel and enter their hotel room as the two of them move around the bed and the furniture. That night Alphonso wants to go see a film saying that the town has 37 movie theaters but Liliane says that she doesn't care to see a film or eat in the hotel and would rather go out for dinner at a restaurant. Alphonse agrees to what Liliane wants to do jokingly under the condition that she agrees to marry him.
The director Ferrand narrates several parts of the film and says, "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! What is a film director? Someone who's asked questions about everything. Sometimes he knows the answers." Ferrand is introduced to the new production manager Lajoie and of his wife who seems to want to follow Lajoie all throughout the set as Ferrand is shown particular vehicles that could be used for the film and interiors of certain buildings, and the right gun for the climax of the film. "Seven weeks. Five days a week. 35 days! I can't shoot this script in 35 days," Ferrand thinks to himself getting all stressed out on all the responsibility he is carrying in making such a large picture.
That next morning the cast and crew all get together in a small auditorium to watch a small rush of the first part of the movie. During the rush Alphonse moves his hand over to touch Liliane's inner thighs. Suddenly Bertrand comes in to inform everyone that there was a power failure at the lab which ruined the crowd scene and now it has to be reshot. Ferrand asks if they were insured for that scene and Bertrand tells him they fortunately were saying, "the way to make money today is in real estate, not movies!"
Alexandre finally arrives to Nice and is considered a classic romantic screen icon and a ladies man who was married and divorced twice. Alexandre asks Bertrand when arriving if Severine knows that he is playing her husband and when he told that she is delighted that greatly satisfies him. He then makes his way into Severine's dressing room and she is very excited to see her old flame. The two of them talk about the classic old days in the Golden Age of Hollywood which was 20 years ago and their past adventures working in the film industry.
Ferrand is warned by Bertrand that the British actress Julie Baker might be a threat because she is known for being a problem on set because of her past nervous breakdowns. Bertrand informs Ferrand that if she has a breakdown during Meet Pamela, they are screwed because they didn't insure her. Ferrand is also told about Severine and Alexandre and how the two of them had an affair a while back which stirred a lot of unwanted publicity and because it ended badly; for years no producer could get them to work together until now. Alphonse pulls Ferrand aside to tell him he's getting married to Liliane in Nice before they finish shooting the film and asks Ferrand if he will be his best man with Ferrand greatly accepting. In the main hall of the hotel Bertrand tries to start a fire in a fireplace and Ferrand says, "People used to stare at fires. Now they watch TV. We need to see moving images, especially after dinner."
The next day during a full rehearsal Ferrand congratulates Liliane about the engagement with Alphonse but by Liliane's facial expression, she doesn't seem to know about the engagement. When a client starts bothering Ferrand about several script ideas that he has written, Bertrand quickly pulls him away to save him. They start to shoot a scene between Severine and Alexandre but Severine recommends to read her lines the way she did when working with Federico Fellini. Doing the scene Severine keeps messing up on her takes when she repeatedly keeps opening the closet door thinking its the front door because of her excessive drinking. "It's not my fault, I'm confused!" she says as she starts to cry so Ferrand excuses everyone who doesn't need to be on the set so she can calm down and concentrate.
Ferrand has a restless night sleeping with all the burden he is carrying trying to work on this film and he has a short dream sequence of him as a young boy walking down an abandoned street at night. The next day during shooting a supporting actress named Stacey starts to complain about having to wear a swimsuit in a particular pool scene but Ferrand tells her even though it is not in the script, the scene plays much better. Ferrand wants Stacey to calm down and when he realizes there is nothing else to shoot besides the pool scene before Julie Baker arrives Ferrand has his secretary Odile try to talk her into doing it saying, "go talk to her, try to convince her. An actress who won't appear in a bathing suit is ludicrous!" Eventually Stacey agrees to wear the swimsuit but later when looking at the footage, Odile tells Ferrand why Stacey didn't want to wear the swimsuit. Ferrand doesn't seem to understand because he believes she looks great but Odile says, "Take another look."
Ferrand then realizes that Stacey is three months pregnant and that she tried keeping it from the cast and crew. Bertrand doesn't think it shows when Ferrand shows him the clip but Ferrand believes he will have to replace her. Bertrand tells him he cannot do that because Stacey's agent has her under an iron-clad contract and that they will lose. The composer of the film calls to let Ferrand and Bertrand hear the theme of Meet Pamela while a beautiful montage of Ferrand is going through several filmmaker books written by the great directors of Bunuel, Dreyer, Lubitsch, Godard, Hitchcock, Bergman, Bresson, Rossellini and Hawks.
Bertrand brings up Stacey and her pregnancy again and suggests changing the storyline and making Stacey's character pregnant but it would confuse the audience and they would believe it would be the child of Alexandre's character. Bertrand leaves the office but before he leaves he states how Stacey isn't married and how curious he is on who the father could be. Famous British actress
Julie Baker finally flies in to Nice and she attends a press conference for the film Meet Pamela explaining the character she is playing and at the same time trying to get through questions regarding her personal life about recently marrying an older doctor. During the next day of filming with Julie, Ferrand is somewhat annoyed that Lajoie's wife seems to act like part of the crew always hanging around on the set but he is told that Lajoie is too weak to tell her to leave. Ferrand also catches Liliane kissing a special effects man and later Alphonse and her argue between takes on how she wishes she could have gotten a bigger part. Alexandre and Ferrand are later discussing his death scene for the film and Alexandre says, "In 80 movies I've died 24 times ... electrocuted twice, hanged twice. I've been knifed, committed suicide, died in accidents, but never a natural death. Anyway, I don't think death is natural."
Julie's husband Dr. Nelson later arrives in Nice to see how his new wife is doing in the film and she pulls him aside after the shooting and says, "I just want to kiss you" as they embrace and kiss. Stacey is done shooting her scenes but her and Ferrand look them over one last time, especially the pool scene to see if her being pregnant is noticeable at all. When they realize none of the shots make it noticeable she leaves to fly home promising to fly back near end of production.
During a shooting day where Alphonse is not needed on set, Liliane wants to attend and tells him she will see him later that day. In a funny scene Alphonse asks a crew member if women are magic and the crew man says, "No, they're not. Neither are men. If a woman says she's known outstanding men...it means she's slept around." In a slightly humourous seen the crew is trying to shoot a scene with a trained cat to lap up a bowl of milk but the cat cannot seem to do it correctly. Eventually Odile arrives with an untrained studio cat and the cat seems to perfectly perform the scene without problem.
Julie's husband has to fly back to Europe after the end of the shoot and Alexandra decides to drive him to the airport in which the doctor discovers a gift that Julie secretly put in his jacket. "The Godfather is showing all over Nice. It's killing every other movie!" Ferrand says as him and Odile go over the screenplay for the next kitchen scene to be shot the next day. That evening the final scripted scene is delivered to Julie and slipped under her hotel room door for Julie to read and go over before the next morning.
Ferrand narrates the progress of the film saying, "the shooting is half-finished. Before starting, I hope to make a fine movie. The problems begin and I aim lower! I hope to make the movie period. Halfway through I say to myself...'You could've worked harder, given more. You can still make up for it!' And I start trying harder to bring the film to life. Meet Pamela is on the right track, now. The actors are into their roles, the crew is solid, problems resolved. Cinema is king!"
They finally are shooting Julie's death scene in which Julie isn't needed at all because of the use of a stunt double. In a short but humorous scene the stunt car needed for the death scene breaks down on its way to the set and while the technician and Odile are fixing it on the road they decide make a quick trip off the road and have sex. After the stunt is successfully completed and the stunt man is no longer needed for the film, Liliane quickly jumps into his vehicle and leaves with the stunt man.
On the way back through town they run into Julie and when Julie sees Liliane leaving with the stunt man Liliane says to her, "I might as well tell you. We're in love. He's taking me to London." Julie says to Liliane that the films not finished but Liliane believes that she is just a fifth wheel and the crew just hired her for Alphonse's sake. When Julie asks Liliane how Alphonse is going to take this and how terribly upset he will be Liliane says, "He's always terribly upset. He's a spoiled brat who won't grow up." Julie says that Alphonse loves her and has been telling everyone that he wanted to marry her but Liliane coldly says, "He mentioned marriage, I didn't. Just the word gives me the creeps. Anyway, he needs a wife, a mistress, a nanny, a nurse, a sister...I can't play all those roles!" Julie angrily says to Liliane before walking away, "your being cruel and you don't even realize it." Liliane shouts out, "I'm through with Alphonse! He wants the whole world to pay for his unhappy childhood!"
Later that afternoon the crew gets together for a photo shoot with Stacey who is now shown to be due very soon, arrives for the photo shoot. Before they take the pictures Alphonse shouts out that they are missing Liliane and Julie pulls Alphonse aside to tell him the bad news. Alphonse gets upset and takes off and Julie tells Odile that Liliane ran off with the stunt man and that she felt she had to tell Alphonse. Odile says, "With the stuntman? I'd drop a guy for a film. I'd never drop a film for a guy!"
Ferrand has another dream that evening with neon lights of 'cinema' in the background. His dream is himself again as a young boy walking down an abandoned street downtown at night. He approaches a theater and reaches through the grating and steals the 8-by-10 glossy publicity stills for Orson Welles Citizen Kane and runs away.
Severine is celebrating a farewell party with the crew before she leaves back to Italy and Odile tries to get the depressed Alphonse out of his hotel room to attend but he is being stubborn and tells her to go away. Severine looks at the pictures of all of them during the making of the Meet Pamela production during dinner and starts to get emotional saying to everyone, "What a funny life we lead! We meet, we work together, we love each other, and then...As soon as we grasp something...It's gone."
When everyone leaves to their rooms later that evening Alphonse finally comes out of his room asking for money to go to a whorehouse. Ferrand takes him aside and says to him, "come on, Alphonse. Go back to your room, re-read the script...learn your lines, then try to sleep. Tomorrow we work, that's what matters. Don't be a fool. You're a very good actor. No one's private life runs smoothly. That ony happens in the movies. No traffic jams, no dead periods. Movies go along like trains in the night. And people like you and me...are only happy in our work. I'm counting on you."
That evening Julie gets a call from her hotel phone from Alphonse saying that he is leaving that night and wanted to tell her. He says, "you've always been my friend. Tell Ferrand for me." Julie tells him to wait and she runs down the hall to his room to speak to him. When she enters his room he is already packing but she tries to talk him into staying and finishing the film.
"I know how much you've been hurt. But I think Liliane still loves you. You're being selfish too. You know it's difficult for an outsider to live with an actor."
"But to leave with just anyone! Some Brit stuntman!"
"Careful! I'm a Brit too. And I know those stuntmen. You know what'll happen to their affair. At first, he'll take her everywhere with him. Then he'll get bored and she'll feel lost all alone in London. She'll be back in two weeks."
"Think so. Anyway, it's over now. I'd rather suffer. You see, I've made a terrible discovery. You can be desperately in love...with someone you despise. Whose every gesture, word and thought you detest!"
"What right have you to say that? Say you made a mistake, but never be ashamed of having loved! By despising Liliane you're merely...degrading yourself."
"Maybe you're right. Anyway, my love-affairs have always ended badly. I thought women were magic."
"Of course they're not magic. Or men are too. Everyone's magic, and no one is."
"I'm sure Ferrand is wrong. Life is more important than films."
Julie tells him to stop being a fool and stay and finish his work. That evening Julie and Alphonse for some reason sleep together (it isn't shown) and she spends the rest of the night in his room. That morning Julie's maid notices Julie isn't in her room and the bed hasn't been slept in and so she lets Odile know. Julie wakes up next to Alphonse and slowly gets up to leave because she has a shoot to go to for the film which involves a costume party. Alphonse wakes up and before she leaves his room he asks her to kiss him and then says to her, "we'll go away together when the film's done." S
he ignores what he says and just tells him to get some sleep and she carefully makes her way back to her room making sure the no one sees her leaving Alphonse's room. Later that day Alphonse makes an impulsive phone call to Julie's husband and says to him, "I love your wife. I slept with her. Set her free!"
Later during the shooting Julie gets a call from her husband and suddenly everyone is scurrying around trying to find Alphonse who has disappeared. Because of the phone call from her husband Dr. Nelson and of him accusing Julie of her affair, Julie has a sudden nervous breakdown and locks herself in her hotel room.
The films shooting comes to a sudden standstill and Odile puts the dramatic pieces together with all this sudden drama and says to a bewildered Alexandre, "Julie didn't sleep in her room. Alphonse disappears, Dr. Nelson calls. The picture's pretty clear!" Lajoie's wife overhears this and says, "what is this movie business? Where everyone sleeps with everyone! Everyone lies! Do yo think it's normal? Your movie world...I think it stinks. I despise it!"
Alexandre doesn't believe what Lajoie's wife says and later says to Bertrand, "That woman's wrong. Movie people may be more obvious about it...but love makes the world go round!" Alphonse is finally found and is brought back to the studio while Ferrand goes to comfort Julie during her emotional breakdown. Julie asks Ferrand why Alphonse did a thing like that and Ferrand says, "Alphonse acted like the child he is. I saw enough of your husband to know he's a wonderful man." Julie tells Ferrand that he doesn't know the whole truth about her husband and tells him that when she was hospitalized during her nervous breakdown, Dr. Nelson left his wife and children, giving up a life it took 20 years to create trying to make her into a responsible adult. "Now he must think it was an awful waste," Julie says. Ferrand says that when her husband knows the whole story he will forget it and everything will be over. Julie says that even if that may be true, she'll never forget what she did saying, "thanks to him, I know I can change my life. I've decided to live alone. I'm sick of disguises. I'm quitting movies. I know that life is rotten."
Dr. Nelson then makes a sudden arrival to Nice and goes to see his wife in her hotel room to forgive her. When Alphonse returns, things are calmed down and they all can finally get ready and continue shooting the final romance scene. Alphonse tells Odile, "I really screwed up. What can I say to Julie when I see her? Should I apologize?" Odile says, "the less said, the better." Before shooting, Ferrand added dialogue for Julie's character and when she gets it, it reads: "Even if that's true, I'll never forget. I've decided to live alone. I know that life is rotten."
After shooting the final romantic scene of the film Meet the Pamela between Julie and Alphonse, the whole crew suddenly gets tragic news. They are told Alexandre is dead after leaving the airport with his wife that afternoon. A truck hit his car and injured his wife but Alexandre died on his way to the hospital. Ferrand narrates saying, "Alexander was buried in a little cemetery above Nice. Now the film's fate was in the hands of the English insurers. What I always feared had happened: a production halted by death. The era of studio movies died with Alexander. Films will be shot in the streets, without stars or scripts. There will be no more films like Meet Pamela."
The insurance company arrives to discuss the situation with Ferrand and Bertrand and they come to the conclusion that they cannot finish the final death scene without Alexander. During the next few days Ferrand and Odile tweak things and figure out a way to shoot the final death without Alexander by using a look a like stand in who will just be shot from behind by Alphonse. During the last shooting day, Alphonse gets a movie offer in Japan, where he believes will be far away from his problems and Julie and her husband arrive to the set to say their goodbye's to Ferrand and the rest of the cast and crew. Julie then walks up to Alphonse and gives him a tender good-bye kiss wishing him well.
The last scene shot for Meet the Pamela is Alphonse coming up out of the subway and approaching the stand in look-alike of Alexandre and shooting him from behind. "Cut! Shooting's over! Thanks, everyone!" announces Ferrand finally ending film production. The next day the rest of the cast and crew finally pack up and leave the Atlantic Hotel and go their own separate ways and when an interviewer asks the technician if the film had a lot of trouble during the shooting, the technician looks into the camera at (us) the audience and says,"Not at all! It was fine! And we hope audiences...enjoy seeing it as much as we enjoyed making it!"
One of Day For Night's many themes is whether films are more important than life for those who make them, its many allusions both to film-making and to movies themselves which is unsurprising given that the great Francois Truffaut began his career as a film critic for 'Cashiers du magazine' who championed cinema as an art form. In Day For Night he deliberately invites his viewers to recognise the artificiality of cinema, particularly the kind of American-style studio film. The writer of the film was the famous Graham Greene who also has a cameo appearance as an insurance company representative in the film, credited as 'Henry Graham'. On the DVD of the movie, it was reported that Greene was a big admirer of Truffaut, and had always wanted to meet him, so as it turned out, when the small part came up where he actually talks to the director, he was delighted to have the opportunity. It was reported that Truffaut was unhappy he wasn't told (until later) that the actor playing the insurance company representative was Greene, because he would have liked to have said hello, as he had admired Greene's work as well.
The character of the film director Ferrand in Day For Night which is played by Truffaut himself, seems to have many shared characteristics to the real legendary film director. The cinema saved François Truffaut's life, he said again and again and the dream sequences that the character of Ferrand have which show him as a young boy downtown stealing 8-by-10 glossy publicity stills of Citizen Kane; I wouldn't be at all surprised if those dreams came from the dreams of Truffaut himself and of his own personal childhood. And yet the dream sequences are very revealing on the character of Ferrand's and of his intentions of a film director and of an artist. As a boy Ferrand always dreamed of becoming another Welles, and even though he isn't making the 'important' films he'd liked to make, he is pleased and highly grateful just to be able to work in the same industry as his mentor, as I'm sure most film directors are. Truffaut said that he was once a delinquent student and film gave him an ambition and something to love, and with the encouragement of the great French critic Andre Bazin, he himself became a film critic and then made his greatest masterpiece The 400 Blows by his 27th birthday.
Along with Jean-Luc Godard, Truffaut is considered the primarily director that first started the movement of The French New Wave which was considered a certain European art form during the late 50s and 60s. The French New Wave was a movement led by a group of young filmmakers that included Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette who were connected to the magazine 'Cahiers du cinema'. In one scene in Day For Night, Ferrand opens a package of books he had ordered which are books on legendary directors he admires such as the great Luis Buñuel, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard, Ernst Lubitsch, Roberto Rossellini and Robert Bresson, which were probably the names of the directors that greatly inspired Truffaut and of his passion for filmmaking throughout his life.
Truffaut had such a passion and love for film directors that he even found time to write about them. His personal favorite was the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, in which Truffaut wrote a classic book-length, film-by-film interview with the man and over the years the two actually became very good friends. François Truffaut has made some of the greatest films of all time. His greatest masterpiece is his very first film The 400 Blows which tells the tragic story about childhood adolescence, which also stars a very young Jean- Pierre Laaud as the lead youth Antoine. The Last Metro tells a story about an actress married to a Jewish theater owner who she must keep hidden from the Nazis while doing both of their jobs. Shoot the Piano Player was a sort of homage to the American gangster films, about a piano player who has a secret criminal past. And then there is Jules and Jim which is also considered a masterpiece and one of my personal favorites. It tells a tragic romance triangle between two best friends who have been in love with the same woman over the years and the positive and negative effect she has on both their lives.
Even though Day For Night intertwines several different stories that involve romance, love affairs, pain, sadness and tragedy; the film is also very educational on the secrets of the movie industry and how certain shots are created. Like for instance the creation of certain weather effects of snow and rain, how they can construct a three-story building with a balcony that technically has no building underneath and the classic day for night effect which is a nighttime effect shot during the day created by the use of a particular filter. And yet the film is more about the family that forms every time people are brought upon to create something, and how it later breaks up when the filming wraps. For these several personal weeks the cast and crew share a sort of intimate bond that no other outside of the film studio could relate to. These characters real passion is not necessarily just to perform or create but to be on a movie set and be a part of a personal community in which they share emotional stress and desperation and where relationships are formed. Between remembering their lines, waking up early for morning roll call, having emotional breakdowns, locking themselves in their dressing room, creating love affairs between spouses or lovers, marriages being threatened and later repaired, or when an animal refuses to act on cue; every character working in the world of the movie industry has basic primitive needs that only others in that industry can satisfy. No one is perfect and Truffaut portrays every character realistically and as flawed, emotionally vulnerable but loving human beings. Some of these characters like Alexandre and Severine are film veterans who already know the ins and outs of the film industry, the hardships and sufferings of love and loss, and the personal sacrifices that are made when growing up in the limelight. Some like the young and naïve Alphonse are just beginning to learn the harsh themes of love and loss and that there is a difference between the romantic tales of the movies and the disappointments of real life. When Julie sees the pain that Alphonse is feeling after Liliane had coldly left him for another man, she feels for Alphonse's loss and she understands his naïvety and innocence on the simplicity of true love; probably because she once was where he was. And when she sees his heart completely broken, she eventually chooses to become unfaithful to her husband to offer Alphonse some temporary emotional comfort; which later backfires and threatens her marriage. And yet even her husband Dr. Nelson isn't so pure himself, when Julie later reveals to Ferrand that he once was married before he met her and later left his wife and children of 20 years to be with Julie. Unlike the magic of the movies, life isn't simply black and white, and in the end people are complex, highly vulnerable and weak natured human beings. The large ensemble cast in Day for Night reminded me of Jean Renoir's cast in The Rules of the Game and how it explored each flawed character's multiple love affairs and dramatic quarrels with one another; and yet in the end everyone had their particular reasons for doing what they did. One of my favorite quotes in the film sums up the best of what Day For Night is trying to say, where the families you can form within the movie industry can also lead to disastrous results.
"Aren't we one big happy family?"
"So are the people in Greek tragedies."