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Film / Day for Night

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“Shooting a movie is like a stagecoach trip. At first you hope for a nice ride. Then you just hope to reach your destination.”
Ferrand (François Truffaut)

Day for Night, known originally in French as La Nuit Américaine (The American Night), is a 1973 comedy film by French New Wave director François Truffaut.

It deals with the trials and tribulations of making a film named Meet Pamela, about a woman who has an affair with her father-in-law. However, every possible complication manages to appear, putting the film in jeopardy. Among the happenings during production:

  • The female lead of Meet Pamela, Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset), has only recently returned to work following a nervous breakdown, and has attracted tabloid attention by marrying a doctor who is at least twice her age.
  • One of the actresses turns out to be pregnant, which threatens to wreck the shooting schedule.
  • Severine, the actress who plays the older wife in Meet Pamela, is an alcoholic who is drunk on set and has great difficulty remembering her lines.
  • Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud), the actor who plays the younger male lead in Meet Pamela, is engaged to be married to a production assistant on this film, but his fiancée is unfaithful.
  • The harried director, Ferrand (played by Truffaut) has to juggle all this and other more routine problems like film that's ruined in developing, or a tight shooting schedule that he can't get extended, or a rebellious stage cat.

For the filming technique (which the film takes its name from), see Hollywood Darkness.

The film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: The in-universe actors apparently have similar careers to the actors who portray them:
    • When Severine cannot remember her lines, she suggests reciting numbers and dubbing her lines in post-production, as she did when working for Federico Fellini. Valentina Cortese, who plays Severine, was in Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits (and likely really did use this technique, as Fellini recorded the sound to his films entirely in post-production, and had his actors count numbers to simulate the dialogue's mouth movements during shooting).
    • The crew members of Meet Pamela mention liking the film Julie made "with the car chase". Jacqueline Bisset, who plays Julie, also appeared in Bullitt, which includes one of cinema's most iconic car chase sequences.
  • The Alcoholic: Severine. Her drinking problem affects the production.
  • American Title: Only in French!
  • Artistic License – Film Production: Thankfully averted. As Truffaut wrote the screenplay as well as directing and starring in the film, he drew from his experiences working in the film industry to portray the mechanics of how films are made, and the problems that can arise.
  • Author Appeal: In one scene, Ferrand opens a box fill with books about directors such as Hitchcock, Rossellini, Bergman, Buñuel, Godard, Dreyer, Bresson and Lubitsch.
  • Author Avatar: Ferrand for Truffaut, whose mother's maiden name was de Montferrand and whose hearing also was impaired by his service in the army. Ferrand's relationship to Alphonse reflects that of Truffaut to Léaud, and Joëlle is a thinly-veiled portrait of Truffaut's collaborator Suzanne Schiffman.
  • Blooper: In-Universe. Several takes are wasted by Severine forgetting her lines or missing the right door.
  • Book Ends: An entertainment news crew is on scene to interview people at the beginning and the end.
  • The Cameo: Writer Graham Greene plays one of the insurance company representatives.
  • Chronically Killed Actor: In-Universe. Alexandre mentions how he's made 80 films and died 24 times, killed in 24 exotic ways, but never died a natural death on-screen.
  • Cool Old Guy: Alexandre. He's seen it all, but without becoming cynical, and always has a friendly word for everyone.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-Universe. Severine has one in front of the director, Alphonse and Julie also make scenes.
  • Cue Card: After Severine has had a bit too much to drink before shooting the scene where she confronts Alexandre over his furtive behavior, her lines are written on cue cards pasted on various surfaces around the set.
  • Cute Kitten: For the "morning after" scene following Alexandre and Pamela's tryst at the cheap hotel, a particularly cute kitten is intended to walk up to their discarded breakfast tray and lap from a saucer of milk. Unfortunately, the kitten keeps turning tail and running away from the tray, and eventually the studio's own cat is used for the scene.
  • Dedication: To actresses Lillian and Dorothy Gish (showing a still of the two at the beginning of the film).
  • Deleted Scene: In-Universe example. Alexandre's death and the insurance agent's refusal to cover the cost of recasting the role mean that his remaining scenes must be dropped from the shooting schedule, and several sequences which have already been shot but for which his footage has not been filmed are also cut from the finished film.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The last obstacle comes out of nowhere when Alexandre is killed in a car wreck.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: An innocent question by the prop master towards Joelle results in them having sex by the creek.
  • End of an Era: How Ferrand sees the death of Alexandre for film-making as a whole.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Lots of affairs on the set of Meet Pamela.
  • Fake Shemp: In-Universe example: Alexandre dies in a car crash before filming the scene in which he is shot by Alphonse. The scene is shot with a stand-in seen only from behind.
  • Film Within a Film: The movie depicts the Troubled Production of the fictional movie Meet Pamela.
  • Gratuitous English: Truffaut was fond of this trope. He gets in a few bits of English, most obviously in the scene where a drunk Severine, constantly botching her lines, starts muttering in English for no reason at all.
  • Hard-Work Montage: Half-way through the movie, a longer montage of key scenes from the filming of Meet Pamela is shown to demonstrate how the production moves along smoothly.
  • Hide Your Pregnancy: In-Universe. In a scene where Janelle, the woman who is the secretary of the Father-in-law, gets out of a pool to take a letter for him, the crew discovers she's just barely pregnant, and by the time she comes back in six weeks for the main part of her scenes, she will be obviously several months pregnant. They have to figure out a way to cover the issue, but they can't simply have her seen as pregnant as it will complicate the story by making the audience think her boss knocked her up.
  • Hollywood Darkness: The scene with the stuntman will be shot in what the French call "Nuit Américaine" but Americans call "day for night".
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The news crew interviews a prop guy and asks him how the production went. He says that it went great, then he looks at the camera and says he hopes the audience enjoys watching it as much as they enjoyed making it. Then the film ends.
  • Limited Wardrobe: For reasons that are unclear, the on-screen movie crew never changes their clothes even though the story unfolds over weeks.
  • Love Father, Love Son: Inverted in the fictional film Meet Pamela. Pamela gets married with Alphonse's character, then she falls in love with his father.
  • Love Triangle: The Film Within a Film, Meet Pamela, tells the tragic story of a love triangle between Alphonse, Pamela, and Alphonse's father.
  • Manchild: Alphonse's emotional immaturity is a serious problem to all around him. He asks Liliane to marry him, and treats her lack of refusal as agreement. He remains oblivious to the subsequent disintegration of their relationship, and when Liliane runs off with Julie's (male) stunt double, he locks himself in his room and threatens to walk off the film. When Julie spends the night with him in a bid to persuade him to finish the film, he misinterprets both her motives and his feelings for her and calls her husband the next morning to ask him to let her go; the ensuing conversation between Julie and her husband causes her to break down and lock herself in her dressing room.
  • Masquerade Ball: There is one in the fictional film Meet Pamela. Unfortunately, Alexandre dies before his scene in the ball is shot, so the scene of Julie and Alphonse must be deleted too.
  • May–December Romance:
    • Among the characters of Day for Night, Julie is much younger than her husband, the doctor.
    • In Meet Pamela, Pamela has an affair with her much older father-in-law.
  • Meet the In-Laws: In the fictional film Meet Pamela, the protagonist has married an English woman who his parents have never met. In the beginning of the film, he introduces her to them.
  • Monochrome Past: Ferrand's dreams of when he was a young boy are in B&W.
  • Muse Abuse: As soon as Julie finishes opening up to Ferrand about her problems, he incorporates her turmoil into the script, word for word. She is not amused.
  • Mythology Gag: To lots of other Truffaut movies:
    • Alphonse and Julie have a conversation by shouting across at each other from open windows, very similar to a famous shot from Jules and Jim.
    • Jean-Pierre Leaud's work in the Antoine Doinel cycle is constantly slyly hinted at. One of the montages has him peeking over and folding a newspaper, a reference to the private detective scenes in Stolen Kisses. Alphonse, Leaud's character, takes another acting job in which his character will fall in love with a Japanese woman, just like in Bed and Board. Add both of these up and throw in a comment about Alphonse's rough childhood and you've got a very, very subtexty connection to The 400 Blows.
  • Pool Scene: There is one in the fictional film Meet Pamela. A secretary is swimming in the pool when her boss asks her to get out to type a letter.
  • Proscenium Reveal: The opening scene is revealed to be a scene being shot for the in-universe movie, when the director shouts "Cut!".
  • Reality Subtext: In-Universe. Julie has problems with her husband. She talks about them with Ferrand. Immediately, Ferrand rewrites the dialogue of the film to incorporate some of the sentences that Julie used to describe her relationship with her husband.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Liliane gives one to Julie about Alphonse being a Spoiled Brat, Manchild and Drama Queen.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The plot of the film-with-in-a-film Meet Pamela is based on a real-life case that made headlines shortly Truffaut started working on the script.
  • Romance on the Set: In-Universe, Day for Night is made of this trope. Alphonse gets his girlfriend Liliane a job as a script-girl so she can be with him during the production, she then falls in love with the stuntman and runs off, heartbroken Alphonse has a fling on the rebound with Julie, while a number of other members of the team also have affairs with each other. Hilariously Lampshaded in the rant by Mme. Lajoie, who is only on the set to watch her husband so he doesn't engage in any hanky-panky.
  • Schedule Slip: In-Universe discussed by the crew whenever an actor is not ready to do his/her scene.
  • Serendipity Writes the Plot: In-Universe example. Several times does the Troubled Production force the crew to improvise and change the script to adapt to new circumstances on the set.
  • Serious Business: One of the central themes is the fact that for the main characters, the movies they make are more important than life itself. Neatly summed up by Joëlle, the script-girl, when dumbfoundedly talking about Liliane running off the set with the stuntman: "I'd leave a guy to make a movie, but I'd never leave a movie for a guy."
  • Set Behind the Scenes: The film is about the shooting of a fictional film named Meet Pamela.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To The Rules of the Game, the Renoir film which inspired Day for Night, which gets title-dropped and quoted outright.
    • To First Love by Ivan Turgenev. Ferrand says that another director works on an adaptation of the novel with a Setting Update in present-day Japan. In the end, Alphonse accepts to play in that film.
    • To Citizen Kane: Ferrand dreams of himself as a child who goes to a closed cinema to steal photographs of this film.
  • Snow Means Death: In-Universe in the Film Within a Film. Joëlle, the script girl, suggests that Alphonse's character should kill his father in a snowy setting. Ferrand likes the idea and the scene is actually shot in a snowy setting.
  • Spoiled Brat: Liliane calls Alphonse this during her "The Reason You Suck" Speech before she takes off with her stuntman.
  • Stylistic Suck: The fictional film Meet Pamela seems to be excessively melodramatic and resorts to a lot of clichés.
  • Terminology Title: La Nuit américaine and Day for Night are terms used in the cinematographic industry to refer to a technique used to shoot night scenes in broad daylight.
  • Title Drop:
    • In-Universe in the Film Within a Film: the characters played by Alphonse and Julie arrive by car at the parents' home and Alphonse's character gets out of the car and says "Je vous présente Paméla" ("I want you to meet Pamela"), which is the French title of the fictional movie.
    • Two for one! It's in a scene where Ferrand (who only speaks French) speaks to the stunt double (who only speaks English) through Julie. Ferrand drops the term Nuit Américaine, which Julie translates into "Day for Night".
  • Troubled Production: In-Universe example. Between a power failure at the processing lab ruining footage of a key scene, Severine's alcoholism, Stacey's previously undisclosed pregnancy, Alphonse's relationship troubles, Julie's delicate emotional state following a nervous breakdown, a tight shooting schedule, and Alexandre dying in a car crash with several key scenes left to film, nothing seems to go as planned for Meet Pamela. Against the odds, filming is completed, but not as originally intended.
  • Unknown Character: After Alexandre dies, the film has to stop production until they find out how the insurance company will cover the accident. The insurance adjuster shows up and explains they can handle the cost of doing only a few days of re-shooting (not enough to replace the actor altogether). What Truffaut didn't know was that the insurance adjuster (who is uncredited in the film) was the famous author Graham Greene. Greene was delighted to have the chance to actually appear in a film with Truffaut, whose work he admired, but Truffaut was disappointed that he didn't find out until later, as he admired Greene's work too.
  • Video Credits: Inserts of all the actors play over high-altitude shots of the crew.
  • Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: In-Universe. We are told that the director writes the script as he goes along and actors get their lines handed to them only shortly before the shoot, which causes discontent among the cast.
  • Written-In Infirmity: In-Universe example. One of the actresses failed to mention her pregnancy when signed to the film, and since with time it will become more pronounced, they decide to incorporate it in the movie.