Le Jour se Leve (Daybreak) (1939)

A man has committed murder… Locked, trapped in a room, he recalls how he became a murderer.

Le Jour Se Leve, also known as Daybreak, follows François (Gabin), a factory worker that has just committed murder. Locked in his apartment he both enters a standoff with the police as well as a flashback recounting how he found himself in this unfortunate situation.

The film is director Marcel Carné’s sixth film and fourth with collaborator Jacques Prévert. Their works contributed to the poetic realism movement. A movement that shined a spotlight on the fringe characters of society and tended to depict a fatalistic outcome.

Unique Editing Style

Le Jour Se Leve is not told in one linear timeline. Instead, the story is split in two sections, before and after the murder. The separation point of these two halves is where Le Jour Se Leve picks up. Jean Gabin’s character, François, has locked himself in his apartment as the police begin to investigate the crime scene and apprehend him. This quickly turns into a standoff that extends through the night, till daybreak.

While in his apartment, François looks back on how he found himself in this situation. His introduction to the love interest, Françoise (Arletty), marks the beginning of the tale. He quickly falls in love with her, however, she is unable to commit herself to him. She is instead interested in a showman named Valentin, played by Jules Berry. In retaliation, François begins to date Valentin’s assistant. This creates a love triangle, with a fourth wheel.

The backstory behind the inevitable shooting of Valentin by François and the deterioration of François’ spirit to his eventual suicide are interwoven in a way that deviates from other contemporary films. The audience is given snippets of information slowly, thus driving a more suspenseful and engaging story line.

Pre World War II Woes

Le Jour Se Leve was released three months before the official start of World War II. It provides an interesting slice of French zeitgeist leading into the war. The evolution of François and his speech at the end suggest a deeper meaning than heartbreak and remorse of this actions.

The speech is an indictment of the contemporary social order. A working class that is forced to work itself to the bone, getting silently murdered every day. François announcing that there is about to be an open position available, with all of the overtime you could need. A slot in the machine that will devour you. Hope is lost as individuals are forced to fend for themselves, unable to trust those around them.

I wonder if the intent by Carné and Prévert was to suggest that Valentin was of foreign decent. Thus, opening the door for xenophobic undertones. Either way, the distraught demeanor of François by the end shows how worn down he is. Showing how unrelenting daily struggle can make people more desperate and divisive. For François, this was a struggle surrounding his work, being able to open himself up to others, trust, and hope for the future.

Poetic Realism

Le Jour Se Leve is part of the Poetic Realism style found in 1930’s French film. Poetic Realism was led by Jean Renoir with other contributors like, Marcel Carné, Pierre Chenal, Jean Vigo, Julien Duvivier, Jacques Prévert, & Charles Spaak, to name a few. Their films focused on the struggles of every day life. Typically focusing on failed love as the final straw.

In Le Jour Se Leve, the story follows a working class man as he descends into hopelessness. At the start, he appears to be generally happy and optimistic about life. He believes that work brings him liberty and that his company cares about his health. By the end, he believes that everyone kills and that his work is slowly killing him.

It is no surprise that the French State, operating out of Vichy, France, banned the film in 1940. This kind of messaging likely resonated with too many people. It makes sense why the government would try to smother a film like that and why it is so important for a film like that to be seen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Directed by: Marcel Carné

Cinematography: Philippe Agostini, André Bac, Albert Viguier, Curt Courant

Written by: Jacques Viot & Jacques Prévert

Editing By: René Le Hénaff

Starring: Jean Gabin, Jules Berry, & Arletty.

Runtime: 1h 33m

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Distributed by: Les Films Vog

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