After studying Les 400 Coups and Jules et Jim, my A-level students are going to watch Truffaut's award-winning movie-within-a-movie movie La Nuit Américaine (1973). In English it's called Day for Night and in case you didn't know "day for night" is a technique used in films whereby you film in daylight, but give the impression the action is at night by the use of camera filters. It's an apt title for this movie, since it suggests that film is a bit like cheating and in this affectionate and warm-hearted film you get to see what film making is all about behind the scenes. It's usually said to be the best film made about film-making and it was rewarded with an Oscar.
Truffaut plays Ferrand, the director of a film called Meet Pamela and the story follows the progress of the shoot. We get to see how Truffaut directs actors, how scenes are put together and, principally, how there is a whole separate drama going on behind the scenes as the actors cope with their off-screen lives.
Truffaut plays with some of his favourite motifs: his early love of cinema as he experiences a recurring dream in black and white of his stealing a poster of Citizen Kane from a cinema, his fascination with women (Est-ce que les femmes sont magiques? says Jean-Pierre Léaud's character) and the frustrations of human relationships. Plus you get to see Truffaut working as Truffaut, which for his fans is an extra treat.
Good lines from Ferrand to Jean-Pierre Léaud:
"Les films sont plus harmonieux que la vie. Il n'y a pas d'embouteillages dans les films, pas de temps mort. Les films avancent comme des trains, tu comprends, comme des trains dans la nuit. Des gens comme toi, comme moi, tu le sais bien, on est fait pour être heureux dans le travail, dans notre travail de cinéma."
In some ways La Nuit Américaine is a light-weight, easy film when compared with his early new wave masterpieces, but fans of cinema rate it as one of his best. You see his long-standing team working together to achieve something despite all the hurdles along the route. You should reach the end with a warm feeling.