Day for Night
This affectionate farce from François Truffaut about the joys and strife of moviemaking is one of his most beloved films. Truffaut himself appears as the harried director of a frivolous melodrama, the shooting of which is plagued by the whims of a neurotic actor (Jean-Pierre Léaud), an aging but still forceful Italian diva (Valentina Cortese), and a British ingenue haunted by personal scandal (Jacqueline Bisset). An irreverent paean to the prosaic craft of cinema as well as a delightful human comedy about the pitfalls of sex and romance, Day for Night is buoyed by robust performances and a sparkling score by the legendary Georges Delerue.
Continuing their relationship with Warner Bros., Criterion presents François Truffaut’s Day for Night in its original aspect ratio of about 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new high-definition 1080p/24hz presentation was taken from a new 2K scan of a 35mm interpositive.
The transfer looks great, probably the best the film has looked in a long time. The restoration has been extensive and I don’t recall any blemishes popping up. The film is fairly grainy but not overly so, and it’s rendered cleanly and naturally and I didn’t notice any compression issues on screen, ensuring that it looks natural and filmic.
The transfer also delivers an extraordinary amount of detail. Long shots of the sets deliver fantastic depth and fine details are easy to make out. The image doesn’t falter in this area and remains clean and natural throughout. The colours look great, with blues being especially striking, and flesh tones look accurate and naturally rendered. Blacks are decent, though not as deep as I would have hoped, and shadow delineation is adequate but nothing special. Still, this is a wonderful looking presentation and will surely please those fond of the film.
The disc presents the film with a lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track and despite the technical limitation it’s a rather impressive one. Dialogue sounds sharp, the English portions easy to make out (which is good since Criterion still refuses to supply hard of hearing subtitles for foreign language films), and sound effects are clearly delivered. The film’s score, though, sounds great, almost like it was newly recorded, and there is superb depth and range to it which leads to it coming off fairly immersive for a mono track. On top of all of that I didn’t pick up any background noise, damage or distortion. It sounds great!
Criterion delivers a rather stacked special edition for the film, though in all fairness they’ve mostly just ported over a lot of the material from the old Warner Bros. DVD, which is fine since most of the material was pretty good (surprisingly scholarly in a few instances). Criterion presents a video essay entitled Dreams of Cinema, created yet again by filmmaker ::kogonada (as a programmer I keep seeing that name and thinking it’s trying to resolve the scope of a method call, though I’m not sure what a method named “kogonada” would do). I don’t dislike these video essays and sometimes they actually do point out some things I’ve never noticed but a lot of the time they can point out the obvious. This one is no different. Here he tries to show how Day for Night reflects Truffaut’s feelings on cinema, as well as his place in it at the time. He looks at a few moments that are references to his other films like the cat sequence that was pretty much lifted out of The Soft Skin. But a good chunk of the feature focuses on the dream sequence, which is broken up into three segments within the film, each segment giving us a taste. He then points out the autobiographical nature of the sequence, while touching on the placement of each scene, the editing, and mise-en-scene within them. It’s not a bad feature and I like how ::kogonada puts it together, particularly when he plays the sequences in unison, but like his other essays it’s not the most in-depth piece I’ve seen.
Following this is another scholarly supplement, an interview with film scholar Dudley Andrew. Andrew talks about Jean-Luc Godard’s letter to Truffaut, where he blasts Day for Night for being an awful, dishonest film, and the angry exchange of letters between the two that followed. He does talk about their relationship up to that point, where the two almost appeared inseparable and stood together on many issues, but seems to suggest that Truffaut was more than likely annoyed with Godard to an extent (Godard would talk about him and other directors behind their back, but then be so bold enough to ask for money to make a film) and that this new letter from him was just the last straw. He gives samples from the letters, some of which are rather hilarious, and what followed between the two after this. It is admittedly hard for anyone to get a handle on Godard, though it does seem (and Andrew even suggests this) that Godard was being a bit playful with the letter even if he didn’t like the film, but it’s obvious Truffaut just didn’t have the patience for it, and in all honesty I can’t say I blame him. It turns into a somewhat sad supplement since the two never really made up before Truffaut’s death, and Godard apparently tried to reach out, but on the whole it’s well presented piece giving a great history on the relationship between the two. It runs about 20-minutes.
Criterion then provides another scholarly supplement, though from the 2003 Warner DVD. Day for Night: An Appreciation features Annette Insdorf simply talking about Day for Night and the elements of it that she feels makes it a great film. She talks about the editing, the rather unique setup that allows Truffaut to use the film-within-a-film to show the same scene again and again from multiple angles and perspectives, and just the love and passion on display about filmmaking. She gives a few backstories and tid-bits about the production, and mentions that the idea for the film probably came from Hitchcock, who had an idea about a film that juxtaposed the banal story of a film with the more interesting stories of the film crew making it. Insdorf does move through her talking points rather quickly, even at 17-minutes, though offers a few interesting insights making the feature worthwhile.
Following that is an archival piece from 1973, a 6-minute behind-the-scenes “documentary” called Truffaut: A View from the Inside, which offers some behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot (though I’m sure some of it is actually just footage from the film being passed off as behind-the-scenes) offering a look at his technique and working with his actors and crew. It feels more like a promotion piece but it makes for an interesting viewing.
Criterion follows this up with a series of interviews starting with two archival pieces featuring François Truffaut: an 8-minute segment from a 1973 episode of Pour le cinema where Truffaut talks a bit about his intentions with the film (at its simplest he wanted to make a film about making a film and who how they’re made) and talks about the general plot, and then a 1-and-a-half minute interview from Cannes, which is more or less the same, just briefer.
Those are interesting to view more as historical documents, not adding much else, but the remaining interviews, both new and old, offer more value. Criterion next presents a newly recorded 13-minute interview with cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn who goes over first meeting Truffaut and getting the look of the film. Truffaut was not a technical director so he did rely a lot on Glenn and his DPs in general, so he set up a lot of the shots. Interestingly the film was being shot in the same studio as another big production, The Last of Sheila, and because they were filming in the buildings, offices, and rooms, they did trample over that production a bit, causing a bit of friction. I found it a fascinating interview if more for the fact it’s one of the more in-depth interviews I’ve come across about working with Truffaut.
From the 2003 Warner DVD is a 9-minute interview with actress Jacqueline Bisset. In it she recalls first getting the part, though through no help from her agent: apparently Truffaut had been trying to get a hold of her but the agent, thinking a Truffaut film would be too small for her career I assume, blocked him. She only found out about it while visiting France and getting a call about the film. Unsatisfied with her career up to that point she took the role without hesitation. From here she shares her experiences, from uncertainty and nervousness to working with the director to her difficulty with the French language, and you can tell she found the whole endeavor more than satisfying. A wonderful personal interview that I’m glad Criterion ported over. It runs about 17-minutes.
Next is an archival interview with actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, filmed for a 1973 episode of Le dernier des cinq. It’s a quick interview at 6-minutes and feels more like it’s for promoting the film but Aumont talks about shooting the film, it’s plot and charms, while also talking fondly of his fellow cast.
The next few interviews all come from the old Warner DVD as well, starting with a lengthy 12-minute one with actress Nathalie Baye. She offers some details about getting the role and talks about the research that went into her role as a script girl, but the best moments are anecdotes she shares, like Graham Greene’s cameo and how it came about, and then she talks about the differences between working with someone like Truffaut and then working with Steven Spielberg on Catch Me if You Can. Another strong interview for this release.
Following this are a series of 4-minute interviews (give or take 30 seconds) starting with actor Bernard Menez, who talks about his quick casting session and his surprise at what seemed like a minor part becoming a fairly meaty role. Dani next gives her story on getting her role and shares her thoughts on the film. She is then followed by editor Yann Dedet, who talks about the challenge of editing, working with Truffaut, and his favourite part of the film.
Those three interviews are fine for what they are but are obviously short, especially Dedet’s contribution, and it’s his observations I probably cared more about. Criterion obviously felt that way as well as they next provide a new 2015 interview with assistant editor Martine Barraque, who expands on what Dedet covered in his interview. Amusingly Barraque hated the script and wasn’t looking forward to doing the film, though eventually it clicked and she saw what it was. Truffaut interestingly enough rarely went into the editing room, only showing up when he was unhappy with something, so a lot of the film was left up go the editors with notes and certain requests from the director. She then talks about her working relationship with the director after the film. The small collection of old features from the Warner DVD is fine but fairly scant on details. This interview makes up for that with far more detail about the editing of the film. It runs about 13-minutes.
Criterion then supplies a handful of material from the archives. Truffaut shoots Day for Nightis a 3-minute newsreel segment featuring quick interviews with Aumont and Truffaut. ”On Day for Night” is an 11-minute segment from a 1973 episode of Pour le cinema, which has more of Truffaut taking about the film but it has the added bonus of also featuring a rather lengthy discussion with actress Valentina Cortese. It’s a shame there isn’t more material featuring her because she is an absolute riot. This is then followed by a 2-minute news clip about Truffaut winning the Best Director and Best Film at the National Society of Film Critics.
The disc closes with the American, English theatrical trailer. The included insert then features an essay by David Cairns, aptly titled “Are Movies Magic?” He goes over the film’s story and structure, as well as its wide assortment of characters.
Again, a lot of the material is ported over from the old Warner DVD, but Criterion has still added some great new material and manages to provide a solid scholarly slant.
An excellent edition overall. Providing a fairly rich array of supplements and a rather stunning high-def presentation, it’s the edition fans of the film have been waiting for. It comes with a very high recommendation.