I watched one of my favorite films, DAY FOR NIGHT, with a small group of folks who are devoted to cinema. I have a special fondness for films about films. CINEMA PARADISO, THE STUNTMAN, SUNSET BOULEVARD, SINGING IN THE RAIN, and their ilk always bring my remote to a delighted halt when I happen upon them.
DAY FOR NIGHT holds other charms for me as well. The film crew in the movie is a tight-knit one. They’ve worked together before and are familiar with and tolerant of their teammates’ peccadillos. Their chosen location for shooting is a sunny and warm one (even when they make it snow). The film has a summer camp feel about it. I’m from the Spin & Marty generation – summer camp usually works for me unless there’s a slasher wandering about.
The film features a tour de force performance by Valentina Cortese and a “tour de WOW” appearance by Jacqueline Bisset.
When the film concluded for tonight’s viewing, one of the group commented; “I can see why people love this film, but it’s not a great work of art.”
After we mopped up the blood and I pleaded justifiable homicide and made bail, I got to thinkin’…
He’s right. It’s not a “great” work of art, but if you generally cherish the films of Francois Truffault (and I do) it is a “great” work of Truffault. Now…what does that mean? This is one of our most-revered directors! How can his films not be great?
“Greatness” is not the story Truffault cares to tell.
For me, the charm and the wonder of Truffault resides in the tight slice of humanity in which he chooses to tell his stories. His are not the stories of saints or demons. His characters do wicked things and heartbreakingly kind things to each other and are not dependable in their choice between the two. They do good things, but not great, and they do them when it’s convenient, and when it happens to occur to them. Ditto for the not-so-good things they do. Truffault’s characters tell the truth when they know what the truth is or when it’s not inconvenient to do so.
Truffault’s stories tell us about cats that can’t follow instructions, persistent human creativity in the face of American insurance companies, fidelity unless Jacqueline Bisset or Delphine Seyrig or Catherine Deneuve or Jeanne Moreau is involved…and of course, when fidelity is convenient. He tells us of dalliances that turn into life-destroying obsessions or deserted island fantasies or small-scale, but convoluted revenge/murder schemes (that may or may not work) – no great tragedies, merely intriguing human ones.
I find that precious, and usually convenient.