Le Jour se Leve (1939)

Marcel Carne | 1hr 33min

A man and a woman, Francois and Francoise, strike up a conversation one day when she finds herself at his workplace delivering flowers. It is a romantic meet-cute that seems fated given the similarities between their names, but this is not the start of a perfect, unhindered romance. This is simply a flashback, conjured six months down the track by a panicked Francois who has shot a man and boarded himself up inside his apartment. How do these scenes with such disparate tones connect? How could this love-stricken man turn into such an anxious, bitter murderer? He himself ponders the same question, reminiscing on the sequence of events that has led to this moment.

Francois’ memories are driven by visual cues laid around his apartment, most significantly the wardrobe which now stands in front of the door. Carne uses this as an abundant source of match cuts, softly dissolving into flashbacks where Francois has the happy freedom to move in and out of that now-blocked entrance. The poetic realism movement that Carne was largely driving in this era underlies his choices to elegantly move the camera in these romantic recollections, made especially apparent in one scene by his choice to keep reframing the lovers among picturesque flowers and ferns as they stroll through a nursery in a single take.

Le Jour se Leve is caught in a period between poetic realism and film noir, combining picturesque frames, long, gliding takes, and a heavy emphasis on shadows.

The tender connection they share is in stark contrast to Francoise’s relationship with Valentin, who is introduced as a showman with a charismatic presence which dominates everyone’s attention. As he performs impressive tricks with his trained dogs up on stage, Francoise is relegated to the position of spectator, admiring from afar but never winning his full emotional engagement in return. It isn’t just Valentin’s narcissism and dishonesty that gnaws away at Francois, but his apparent success in keeping Francoise by his side. Francois is embittered, and Valentin’s fate is sealed after delivering a particularly cruel jab at his rival.

We dip in and out of these fatalistic flashbacks several times, returning to present-day Francois pacing around apartment, the fade to dusk outside gradually consuming him in darkness. Meanwhile, the police advance and the nosy neighbours poke their heads out their doors, peering up the stairway that leads to his apartment. In their eyes, he is a cold-blooded murderous freak to be gawked at. As they crowd the streets he leans out of his window, chastising them for the fetishising of his pain while mourning the destruction of his innocence by a man who may not have been a murderer, but was a far worse person than him.

“I’m a murderer, yes! But killers can be met in any street… everywhere! Everyone kills, everyone! Only they kill by degrees, so it’s not noticed.”

Carne finds space to experiment with these inventive camera angles all through Francois’ apartment.

Carne’s elegant camerawork is gone here, replaced with a harsh montage quickly cutting between faces in the crowd, some sympathetic, others merely amused. When Francois finally shuts himself back inside, the space feels much smaller than before. The vice is tightening around him, the full impact of his corruption finally settling in his mind in the final few minutes, pushing him to take his own life. As we track out on that now-indistinguishable slump lying on the floor, the smoke of the police’s tear gas clouds a room of overturned furniture and shattered glass. Not only does Carne build on the masterful camerawork and mise-en-scène displayed in Port of Shadows, but his formal structuring of this bitterly nostalgic narrative makes Le Jour se Leve an indelibly moving portrait of France’s lost innocence as it headed into World War II.

Great form in the repetition of this shot, the second revealing a plunge into darkness.

Le Jour se Leve is not currently available to stream in Australia.

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