Not only did this film-within-a-film almost certainly influence Irma Vep (see Intermission), but it could well be Truffaut’s most ingenious work…
La Nuit Americaine [Francois Truffaut, 1973]
Truffaut portrays his own directorial self calmly navigating the fluctuating temperaments of actors and crew members – alongside countless production demands such as having to decide which hand-gun he would prefer in a final scene – as one perpetually renewed by dreams of its mischievous adolescence (the starry-eyed fan stealing photographic stills of Citizen Kane). And from his opening dedication of the film to silent movie starlets Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Truffaut proceeds to display the internal workings of the magic lantern that is cinema in a way that renders La Nuit Americaine no less magical for doing so: the almost breath-catching moment when a kitten finally decides to drink from a bowl; the wiring ‘trick’ with a candle; Truffaut’s never less than innovative technique (the freeze-framings in an airport arrivals hall are just perfect); to the hastily manufactured snow conveying a very real sense of everything coming together at the last moment. La Nuit Americaine seems to have it all: an international cast, comedy, drama, pathos, irony (“in the future all films will be made on the street without stars or a script…”) as well as a profound respect for the artifice inherent within the transforming process of the production itself. And one is left with an overwhelming realisation that no-one loved cinema quite so much as Francois Truffaut. Indeed, he confides his defining aesthetic to Jean-Pierre Leaud’s fragile leading man: Namely, that cinema is more important than life.
NB. La Nuit Americaine refers to the cinematographic trick of simultaneously under-exposing and avoiding sky so that nighttime scenes can be shot during the day. Hence the film’s US and UK distribution title, Day for Night.