Day for Night is full of love for movie making, with a charm that can barely be resisted. It is of special interest to people in the business ... my cousin, who worked for years as a grip, said it is very truthful about what a director has to deal with during the making of a movie. It is about a subject dear to Truffaut's heart ... it is no accident that he plays a movie director in the film. On the TCM website, David Sterritt says it "may be the most beloved film ever made about filmmaking." It won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and was nominated for director, original screenplay, and supporting actress (Valentina Cortese). It is #411 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.
Day for Night is also excellent at showing the familial camaraderie of cast and crew, as they come together for months of working together in close quarters. There are instant friendships that will likely end once the film is finished, there are casual sexual encounters that aren't taken too seriously by anyone, and, at least in Truffaut's world, there is an acceptance of your fellow workers, all part of a great enterprise.
Crucially, though, as the movie's director Ferrand says, "Making a film is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. By the halfway point, you just hope to survive." This acceptance of compromise seems harmless, but it helps explain why Meet Pamela, the movie being made in Day for Night, is such a trifle. Because in Day for Night, the process of making a movie is reward enough ... you don't need to produce excellence to make that process worthwhile. We in the audience don't care about Meet Pamela because Truffaut doesn't care about it. It's just an excuse to show the joy of filmmaking. But, as Kael wrote, "I don't share Truffaut's fond regard for the kind of moviemaking that 'Meet Pamela' represents. I ask for the extraordinary from films, while Truffaut, who finds moviemaking itself extraordinary, is often content to make films for everyday."
Like most people, I was caught up in the pleasures Truffaut offers here. Day for Night isn't as good as his first features (The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, and especially Jules and Jim), but that's not a standard anyone can reach every time they start a new movie. And I understand Kael's resistance, but I'm willing to care a little less about the extraordinary when the representation of the everyday is as enticing as it is in Day for Night (if a film about making a film can ever be every day).
Famously, one person found Day for Night to be a travesty of making movies: Truffaut's old friend Jean-Luc Godard. In Day for Night, Truffaut shows his love for a fairly traditional form of cinema. Despite the low budget for Meet Pamela, much of what the movie shows us relates to Hollywood movie making, as exemplified perhaps by the crane shot in the above clip. This is a long way from the guerrilla stylings of Godard and Truffaut in their earliest days, and Godard was frustrated by this.
As with Kael, I understand Godard's resistance. But Day for Night remains a pleasure, nonetheless. Still, I'd point to Jacqueline Bisset as the best example of what Kael and Godard might have been saying. As always, Bisset is phenomenally beautiful in Day for Night. And she's a decent actress. But she doesn't rise above her beauty ... she is not Catherine Deneuve or Jeanne Moreau. Jules and Jim would be a much different movie with Bisset ... for one thing, she lacks the mystery that Moreau brings to the movie. Day for Night, and Bisset, are pleasurable. Jules and Jim, and Moreau, are extraordinary.