Home > Movies, Reviews (Movies) > La Nuit Americaine [Truffaut, 1973]

La Nuit Americaine [Truffaut, 1973]

La Nuit Americaine was an inevitability. Like its big brother, Godard’s Le Mépris, it allowed a fixated cinephile to decompress. It reveals some sour opinions. It airs cheeky grievances. Above all, it is an exuberant investigation of the filmmaking process.

In more ways than one, La Nuit Americaine is a cop-out. The film sometimes hides behind thick meta revelations that lead down the road to nowhere. In addition, Truffaut, visibly tired and possibly even jaded, throws himself into a substantial acting role. It is hardly a surprise that he took a two-year sabbatical immediately after its release. Neither is it a surprise to believe that it is some sort of culmination for Truffaut. Spending his entire life ensconced in cinema, he must have been relieved to finally open a parcel full of books on Buñuel, Hawks, Lubitsch, and the rest. He even gives them a healthy close-up, as arbitrary as they are.

To be fair, it’s hard to think of a disingenuous movie in all of Truffaut’s oeuvre. No matter the age, he brings such a youthful exuberance to the screen. Where Godard strikes some viewers as cold and theoretical, Truffaut fills the same space with a wistful longing to remake the films he saw during his childhood. One of the most striking moments of La Nuit Americaine comes when Truffaut’s director is dreaming of his younger self stealing Citizen Kane stills from a local exhibit. Certainly, he is one filmmaker who understands the psychological power of cinema at the most basic level. It’s not merely an element of his existence, it’s a dream that he tried to find. This may be exactly what makes La Nuit Americaine so recklessly spotty at times — made by a man who loves and understands film so deeply that he overestimates its potential. Nevertheless, Truffaut manages to breathe ecstasy into a film even when he is ready for a break.

Portions of the film succeed with silly but ambitious deconstructions of the filmmaking process. One scene deals with a troublesome actress and her trouble with memorization. Not only does the sequence dissect various levels of the cinematic fantasy, it also makes earnest acknowledgments of the hyper-emotional world of acting. The second half of the film is particularly astute in washing away the line between fiction and reality in regards to actors and their relationships and connections with one another. Visually, La Nuit Americaine demonstrates the absurd talent in Truffaut to make pivotal decisions the same way that we decide to wake up in the morning. It’s in his nature to effortlessly block scenes and choreograph camera work that is essential to the storytelling. At the same time, it also shows us how easily he is sucked into an exclusive reality. There is little evidence of a universe outside of Truffaut’s film.

If there is one word to describe La Nuit Americaine, it’s playful. An always-youthful tribute.


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