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Customer Review

4 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well-acted but plodding, uncreative glimpse at love quadrangle, December 12, 2010
This review is from: Essential Art House: Le Jour se Lève (DVD)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Le Jour Se Leve was considered good enough by Hollywood to be remade into a Henry Fonda vehicle in the 1940s. It's also currently considered a classic by many film critics and appears on some of the top ten lists for best film of all time. From my perspective, it's just another one of those films that's gained a reputation and because everyone else says it's great, it must be! But looking at it objectively, the story not only plods along but fails to pay off.

The film begins with Francois, a factory worker, who has barricaded himself in his rooming house after shooting a man. The police arrive and he fires bullets through the door which almost hit the unarmed officers standing outside. The police call for reinforcements and a standoff ensues. The rest of the film involves flashbacks which explain how the situation arose as well as flash forwards to the present, with Francois holed up in his apartment as the police take various actions to try and get him out.

It seems that Francois has fallen for a young waif, a floral shop worker by the name of Francoise and courts her assiduously. After a few weeks, he wants to stay the night with her but she tells him she has another engagement in the evening. Francois follows Francoise to a nightclub where Valentin, an older man, is performing a dog training act. Francois spies Francoise as she goes through the stage door in the back of the club to visit Valentin. Meanwhile, Francois runs into Clara (played by Arletty who was blacklisted for awhile in the French film industry after having an affair with a German Officer during the Occupation in World War II). Clara, who is Valentin's assistant and lover, reveals that she's just broken up with him after a three year relationship.

The rest of 'Le Jour' revolves around Francois shacking up with Clara but also seeing Francoise. Valentin confronts Francois continuously and at one point falsely claims that he's Francoise's father. Finally, Valentin comes over to see Francois with a gun and admits that his initial intent was to shoot him. After further angry conversation, Francois takes Valentin's gun and shoots and kills him with it.

That's almost it. After all the flash forwards to Francois dodging police bullets fired into his apartment, he finally decides to shoot himself. After all the machinations amongst the quadrangle, the suicide is probably the most unimaginative way to conclude the story.

Le Jour's characters are all rather one note. Francois is the probably the best of the bunch since he has that gift of gab with women. But he's also an obnoxious hothead who can't control his temper. After he shoots Valentin, are we really supposed to feel for sympathy for him? The shooting is completely uncalled for. As for Valentin, his wacky demands for Francois to stop seeing Francoise become tiresome. Yes we get it that he's insanely jealous but it would be nice if we found out some things about him. Francoise appears particularly spineless as she continues her relationship with Francois despite continuing to see Valentin. I couldn't understand what she saw in Valentin and it's never really explained. Perhaps she's 1939 France's answer to a 'flower child'. Finally, Clara is the most level-headed of the bunch. She garners sympathy at the end when she attends to Francoise after she faints as the police close in on Francois. But Clara's screen time is limited and seems to be the odd woman out in the drama.

Le Jour is certainly well-acted and Jean Gabin is particularly good as the smooth-talking Lothario who seduces both women. But with all long-winded 'present day' scenes with Francois besieged by the police, unexplored motivations of the various principals, one note characterizations and that climax which ends in a whimper, Le Jour Se Leve is a decidedly overrated film, undeserving of inclusion in the pantheon of art house winners.
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Location: New York, N.Y.

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