ARCHIVE: Le Jour Se Lève/Daybreak (1939)


A fatalistic tale of love and jealousy, Marcel Carné’s Le Jour Se Lève is a captivating and tragically romantic French classic.


Fifty Shades Of Black by Dave O’Flanagan

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Banned in 1940 on the grounds that it was ‘demoralising’ by the Vichy government, Marcel Carné’s atmospheric film noir is now recognised as a jewel in the crown of pre-war French cinema – and for good reason. Le Jour Se Lève radiates class and complexity, and while the narrative may be described as straight-forward, its exquisite delivery is anything but. With rich and poetic dialogue, diverse and technically proficient camera work, it’s almost hard to believe that it’s the film’s 75th anniversary. Remastered and restored in 4K, this never-before-seen version of the film is a glowing reminder that the genetics of what we consider ‘great cinema’, haven’t changed in three quarters of a century.

Set within the confines of a five-storey guest house, when foundry worker François (Jean Gabin) shoots and kills Valentin (Jules Berry), he is surrounded by police and is forced to barricade himself in his room. François’ involvement with young florist Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent) and the older more experienced Clara (Arletty), has sparked jealousy in Valentin which results in the fatal confrontation. Told through a series of flashbacks, François recalls the circumstances that have led to this seemingly inescapable juncture.

Outside of the beautifully restored print that teases new depths from the 75-year-old black and white picture, it’s abundantly clear from the get-go how technically accomplished Carné’s film is. With striking and economical movement, an early shot has the camera panning up the stairwell of the Parisian guesthouse setting of the film, stealing glimpses of the intrigued and awe-struck inhabitants. The composition and lighting of almost every scene evokes a sense of love and pride in each frame, and the caravan of cinematographers Agostini, Bac, Viguier and Courant (uncredited) responsible for this consummate artistry should be lauded as much as director Marcel Carné.

The tense and foreboding atmosphere of the film is maintained with the intense and almost operatic performances from its cast. Jean Gabin’s powerful and sympathetic portrayal of François is the dark heart of the film. Charismatic and dashing, the immediacy of his situation is hammered home as he recalls tender moments with the women in his life in the midst of a hail of bullets. Arletty and Jacqueline Laurent’s characters are also refreshingly strong, neither the wilting flower of so many films in subsequent eras, they are as complex and multi-faceted as the snappy running time permits. Presented as the villain of the piece, Jules Berry’s Valentin is enjoyably manipulative, but human, described wonderfully by Clara as “rotten, like a bruised fruit”.

Le Jour Se Lève poetically recounts a story that is as old as human existence – man fighting over something that’s not his in the first place. While Françoise and Clara lament the death of their lovers, François and Valentin succumb to the twisted jealousy of their own perceived ownership of love. The sting in the tail for François comes in a clever scene where the passing of a trinket represents something more than a token gift. Tragically sad and romantic, Le Jour Se Lève has an ageless quality that will survive well past its 150th anniversary.

Le Jour Se Lève is re-released on 3rd October 2014 in the UK

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