Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day for Night: Truffaut and the Truth

Pauline Kael, in her review of the film, called it “a movie for the movie-struck”. If that is true, then it would go some way in explaining why I liked it so much, where Truffaut’s much-venerated classic Jules et Jim left me somewhat cold. Day for Night is a film about the making of a film, a doomed, overheated piece called Meet Pamela, which is what seems to have riled up Kael in the first place. She misses the point. The fact that Ferrand, the director (played by Truffaut) actually believes that they are creating a small piece of art, enough to re-do a scene after adjusting the face of the leading lady by a few milimetres, makes it a movie about the alchemy of the movie-making process, irrespective of the end product.

There are moments that one can expect only from Truffaut. There is a dream sequence that unfolds in parts and in the end reveals a boy stealing publicity stills of Citizen Kane. Truffaut once said of that movie that it was the one that launched the maximum number of directors on their careers. Then what does he mean by this scene? Is Truffaut saying that the character he is playing is a hack, and in effect, distancing himself from him? Or does he perhaps feel a kinship with him and his troubled dreams about his inability to match up to a film like Kane? Is it a reminder of the fact that the New Wave was primarily founded on the work done by Hollywood directors like Welles, Hawks and Ford – suggesting that they are all, in a way, guilty of theft?

There is one more scene, much talked-about, which sticks in one’s mind. The young lead has to shoot his father in the movie. It is a scene rooted in artifice. The actor playing the father has died, so they have a stand-in. It is shot with artificial snow, the effect created by industrial foam. The director barks instructions at the extras as the scene is being shot, reminding us at every step that it is not ‘real’. Finally, with the thrilling background music rising to a crescendo, we see the man being shot, many times, from different angles. The scene could serve as a lesson in editing; it could also be a meditation on the nature of truth. When you get down to it, no movie is real. Realistic they can be, or based on real events. But the minute you have a plan, a script, a person shouting “Cut”, you are imitating life. The audience knows this and doesn’t care- what they are looking for in movies is not realism, but instead that one transcendental moment. Truffaut’s major achievement is that, after watching this movie, many would agree that he has a sure grasp on both reality and magic.

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