If Michael Bay films are 90 minutes of action sequences strung together by dialogue spewed out of a random word generator, then Marcel Carné’s Le Jour Se Léve (Daybreak) is the antithesis of these movies.
Le Jour Se Léve is a painting, its brush strokes: the words of writer Prevert. His mastery of the written medium creates a tapestry, woven in the poetic discourse between lovers and rivals.
The subject matter is held in great stead by the talented hand of Carné, and it is easy to see why Le Jour Se Léve is considered by some to be his masterpiece. Although the film is a work of realism, the direction preempts the form of the American noir that would boom in the following decade. Staple tropes of noir filmmaking come into play to create some beautiful uses of light – back when films treated shadow with as much respect as they did its counterpart – as well as bringing an air of suspense and sexuality to the piece.
The film is about a man, Francois (Jean Gabin), who has recently committed a murder and is looking back on the events that lead to him to taking such actions. To say the film is about a murder (as I was told before watching it) is like being told Pulp Fiction is about two guys sent to collect a briefcase. It is about two guys sent to collect a briefcase, but that synopsis hardly does justice to the content of the film.
Jules Berry plays the murdered Mr Valentin, and does a fantastic job in creating a reprehensible villain in a film full of grounded, realistic characters. An almost Jack Nicholson level of manic creepyness helps bring to life this original role.
The main issue I have with Le Jour Se Léve however, is that I’m not sure what it wants me to feel. Do I feel sympathy for Francois as he sits on his bed, alone and confined, surrounded by bullet holes? Francois, the jealous, womanizing thug? The murderer? Do I feel for the women he has hurt along the way but who are ultimately the catalysts for his actions? Do I feel sorry for the murdered Valentin who beats and mistreats animals for a living?
Throughout it’s 93 minute run time, as strong as the dialogue is, it’s power starts to wain when you realize it’s the only thing holding the film together. The intimacy between characters is captured with a genius subtlety, and techniques such as long establishing shots and extended flashbacks shown via dissolve transitions show a maturity beyond the films years. But when there is little else waiting for you at the end of your journey than the murder scene from the beginning? Well, ones attention can’t help but wonder…
Ultimately, Le Jour Se Léve will probably be a love/hate film for many people. If you aren’t invested in the characters, you’ll be bored to death by it. But if you’re a sucker for meticulous camera movement, gorgeous dialogue, fantastic acting and exposed nipples (approximately two whole seconds to be precise), then this film is most certainly for you.