Movie Review: Oscars best foreign language film winner, 'Day for Night'

April 15, 2020

‘DAY For Night’  is a French film that won the Oscar best foreign language film in 1973. We saw it at Alliance Francaise and it’s really one of the best films ever made about the business of making movies. Its director, Francois Truffaut, is a former film critic who became an acclaimed director in films like “The 400 Blows” (his directorial debut in 1959), “Jules et Jim”, “The Bride Wore Black” (which inspired “Angela Markado”), “Story of Adele H” and “Stolen Kisses”.

The title “Day for Night” is from the technique of shooting night scenes during day time by putting a dark filter on the camera. (In some cases, filmmakers use black backing.--Ed.) It’s about the shooting of a film called “Meet Pamela”, a melodrama starring former top actress Severine (Valentina Cortese), her ex-lover now aging actor Alexandre (Jean Pierre Aumount), young actor Alphonse (Jean Pierre Leaud, Truffaut’s signature actor who started with him as a little boy in “The 400 Blows”), and a British actress, Julie Baker (a very sexy and beautiful Jacqueline Bisset). The director, Ferrand, is played by Truffaut himself.

As the shoot goes on, we encounter the problems that a harrassed director usually does in making a movie, plus several subplots or vignettes involving the cast and crew. Julie, for instance, is just recovering from a nervous meltdown and her much talked about marriage to her much older doctor. The movie also shows the tricks used in making a film, like using soap suds as snow and electric lights as make-believe candles.

The behind the camera scenes show the characters going through their own intertwining love affairs, break ups and heartbreaks and Truffaut sews up all its edges seamlessly. A supporting actress confesses she’s pregnant. The lovestruck Alphonse is jilted by his sweetheart who dumps him for a stuntman and he has a one-night stand with Julie. One major character tragically dies while shooting the film. 

The ensemble film is generally well acted, but Valentina Cortese stands out as the aging actress who has taken to the bottle to conceal a personal tragedy. She keeps on making little mistakes in front of the camera that is both funny and sad. She got nominated in the Oscar for her performance in this movie but lost to Ingrid Bergman for “Murder on the Orient Express”. Ingrid later acknowledged Valentina in her acceptance speech.

If you’re involved in showbiz, but even if you’re not, you’d surely enjoy all the hilarious shenanigans the characters go through in this heartwarming film that combines comedy with some wise observations about human nature. It shows that movie making is not all about glamour and it has certainly withstood the test of time.