Friday, July 26, 2013

Mr. Blandings builds his dream film

There are quite a few movies in which Hollywood looks at itself. And then there are movies like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, where everything that can go wrong as the Blandings try to build that house does go wrong. If you combine the two types of movie, you might get something resembling Day For Night, which is airing at 8:00 PM tonight on TCM as part of the last night of this month's Friday Night Spotlight on the films of François Truffaut.

Trauffaut is actually one of the stars of this movie, playing a director named Ferrand. Ferrand is planning to make a movie called "Meet Pamela" ("Je vous présent Pamela"), which is a wholly fictitious movie. As far as I know, the real-life Truffaut never had any plans to do a movie like this. We do get to see some scenes from the film-within-a-film, at least from the angle behind the camera instead of through it, much as in the scene in Sunset Blvd. where Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond visiting Cecil B. DeMille on tha Paramount lot, or a whole bunch of scenes in THe Bad and the Beautiful. But the scenes of "Meet Pamela" look as though they're incoherent, in the sense that there's no way you could come up with a plot that puts them together and still makes sense. No; thoses scenes are just a hook for Truffaut's look at the filmmaking process. Specifically, a process in which nothing seems to go right and it's a miracle that the film even gets made at all.

And to be honest, almost nothing on Ferrand's set goes right for him. To start with is the lead actress, Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset). Ferrand's been able to get her to do the movie for the simple reason that nobody in Hollywood wants her right now, since she's recovering from a nervous breakdown. (I can only imagine what it was like for Billy Wilder when he worked with Marilyn Monroe.) Julie has in the meantime acquired a husband (David Markham). Ferrand's male lead is Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud, who played the kid in The 400 Blows). Alphonse, in "Meet Pamela" is playing Pamela's husband; off the set, he's having an affair with the script-girl (Nathalie Baye) who is probably more in love with the film than she is with him. As for Ferrand's supporting actors, they're played by Jean-Pierre Aumont and Valentine Cortese. Their back story is that they had appeared together on screen a lot in the past, but now they don't particularly care for each other. She's become an alcoholic and has trouble remembering her lines, while he's gay and trying to keep it a secret. Together, these characters are going to try to make a movie? Poor Ferrand, who seems like the most normal person on the set.

As I said, the viewers aren't really supposed to care about "Meet Pamela" in terms of its structure. We're only supposed to care about it insofar as Ferrand has a lot of difficulty making it. Boy are those difficulties entertaining. Truffaut was part of the French New Wave, and his movies like The 400 Blows were considered groundbreaking for their new style. Day For Night, on the other hand, is probably one of Truffaut's most accessible movies, in the sense that it's easy to follow and identify with. Truffaut doesn't seem to be trying to break any molds here, but that's ultimately to the benefit of the movie. It gives the movie a more intimate feel, and even for those who aren't quite so into movies, it's easier to identify with all of the troubles facing poor Ferrand. The stars are also quite good; Cortese received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role.

Day For Night is available on DVD.

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