• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:June 22, 2021

Le Jour Se LĂšve: Night Terrors

One of the most classic films in history faced stiff resistance in the 1940s. The Vichy government banned Le Jour Se LÚve, considering it demoralizing. In the U.S., RKO remade the film as The Long Night, releasing it in 1947. In order to secure its success, RKO bought the distribution rights to the original and tried to destroy every copy it could put its greedy hands on. Fortunately, Le Jour Se LÚve survived; a restored version has been released, complete with dialogue and scenes (including a shot of a naked Arletty) that the Vichy censors tried to prevent audiences from ever seeing. 

A murder in an apartment
When the film begins, we’re thrown right into the action. François (Jean Gabin) shoots Valentin (Jules Berry) who stumbles out of the apartment and later dies. Soon police arrive at the scene and try to shoot their way into the apartment, but François successfully barricades himself inside. As the police ponder different ways to either beak into the apartment or use a sniper against François, he thinks back to how he ended up in this situation. He was a foundry worker who started dating a florist’s assistant, Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent). He fell in love with her, but learned that she was set on a relationship with Valentin who had a dog show where the animals performed tricks.

Clara (Arletty), Valentin’s assistant in the show, took a liking to François and they hooked up. She fell in love with him, but knew he couldn’t put Françoise out of his mind. Then one day, Valentin gave him a piece of startling news

Rejecting documentary-style authenticity
In 1938, Marcel CarnĂ© released Port of Shadows. Together with Le Jour Se LĂšve, the film would be part of Carné’s rise as a filmmaker and subsequent critics labeled them ”film noir”. Even if the term originated in France, it has been mostly applied to American movies. Instead, Carne’s work and that of other French filmmakers at the time (including Julien Duvivier and Jean Renoir) has been called poetic realism, films rejecting documentary-style authenticity, instead attempting to recreate realism in a studio, often portraying characters that belong to the working class or criminals.

Gabin was a star of the movement and this is one of his most memorable efforts, as a hot-tempered man who can’t escape the tragedy he seems destined for. Somehow we empathize with him, even if his actions consistently lead him wrong. It is largely a very capable cast, with Berry another standout as the narcissistic stage star who can never be trusted regardless of what he’s saying. The film offers unrequited affection (Clara), shameless exploitation (Valentin’s behavior toward Françoise), a romance that grows into something more mature (Françoise’s emotional journey) and unstoppable male rage (François), all part of the flashbacks that frequently take us back in time from the apartment as Gabin awaits his final confrontation with the police. It’s a narrative device that wasn’t too familiar with audiences at the time and therefore considered a fresh concept.

As for the term ”film noir”, whenever we return from a flashback to the apartment, darkness descends; the cinematography is very effective in those scenes, adding to the tension and preparing us for that unforgettable final scene, beautifully staged, that explains the meaning of the title.

As the war began, Carné and co-writer Jacques Prévert reunited with Arletty and Berry for Les Visiteurs du Soir (1942), a Medieval fantasy that was interpreted by some as an allegory about Hitler. Carné denied it. After all, he probably wanted his film to be seen, not banned.

Le Jour Se LÚve 1939-France. 93 min. B/W. Produced by Jean-Pierre Frogerais. Directed by Marcel Carné. Screenplay: Jacques Prévert, Jacques Viot. Cinematography: Philippe Agostini, André Bac, Albert Viguier, Curt Courant. Cast: Jean Gabin (François), Jacqueline Laurent (Françoise), Jules Berry (Valentin), Arletty (Clara), Arthur DevÚre, Bernard Blier.

Trivia: Alternative title in English: Daybreak. 



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