There may be worse places to start with the French New Wave than a film-course screening of Weekend, but starting there myself all those years ago didn’t exactly enthuse me to become an authority on the matter. If that Tree of Life review last week seemed a trifle narrow-minded, I consider it a tribute to my adventurous nature and willingness to be persuaded that I ever went anywhere near the French New Wave again after enduring Godard’s egregious fin du cinemagoer’s will to live, to say nothing of continuing to go back after Breathless, Jules et Jim, Sympathy for the Devil and The 400 Blows all failed to convert me. (I managed a wry/smug smile throughout Sympathy, anyway. The secret of being in on the gag is pretending to be in on the gag.)
It finally paid off. Day for Night is quite the treasure, an exquisite comedy about the making of a (fictional, and quite silly-looking) tragic melodrama, detailing the siege mentality of a film set and its attendant flings and falling-outs, the prima-donna tantrums, the ongoing search for “a cat that can act”, all infused with the certainty that our auteur (playing a harassed, battle-scarred but diplomatic and ever-patient version of himself) wouldn’t have it any other way.
Most famous is the monochrome dream sequence (or memory) of Truffaut as a child, employing ingenuity to acquire some Citizen Kane stills from a closed cinema. Remembering a time before home video, before small-screen Kane was available everywhere for the price of a king-size Mars bar, is universally relatable; we all recall the rationing of our childhood preferences, when we made do with what we could get, when a (mass-produced) artifact or two come across by happenstance could make our week. Maybe foreign “art” films are among the few cultural phenomena that retain that elusiveness, purely because a pandering western monoculture just doesn’t have time for them and assumes we won’t either?
Aw, crap. I’m gonna have to watch Weekend again, aren’t I?