Daybreak, a French film by Marcel Carne, is considered the foremost example of the French film style of poetic realism. It is also, apparently, the film that popularized the effect of dissolving to signify flashbacks, so influential it was. The film’s story concerns the torrid affairs of a love quadrangle, between protagonist Francois, two women, and the man whom the two women were previously with. The two men naturally come to a head over the women, and this eventually leads to one of them shooting down the other; the tale of how it led to that moment is the part of the story told in flashback.
The film has the sensibility of a well-made American film of the time. It’s concerned foremost with the story it’s telling, and is structured much the same way an average American film of the early 40s would be structured. That being said, while it was concerned with the story, the story itself wasn’t all that interesting. Not to mention it seemed like it was stretched out a great deal by a bunch of scenes that really didn’t have any real point to them, or served no purpose in being there. There’s a scene where, when the police have surrounded Francois in his hotel room, he further barricades himself in by pushing a wardrobe closet in front of the door. This is followed by an exchange between one of the police chiefs and one of the landlords of the building at the bottom of the stairs as to whether there’s a wardrobe in the room or not, and what size it may be. The scene served no function whatsoever, and shouldn’t even have been scripted, let alone remained in the final cut instead of being left on the cutting room floor. The problem I had with this was that every scene was either related to the main love quadrangle, which wasn’t that interesting to begin with, and didn’t have a whole lot of plot devices or actions that moved it forward at all, or it was a throwaway scene like the one I described. Really, aside from the new way of figuring out how to work flashbacks into the narrative, this whole film seemed to serve no purpose at all.
Frankly, I wasn’t too concerned with the story this film seemed to be telling, if that wasn’t apparent. The way it was told was far more interesting, and that was likely only so because I’d known of the importance of it beforehand. The film would, several times, dissolve back and forth from the present to the past and back again, but it seemed to do so at such odd moments, like it knew what it was doing was revolutionary so it decided rather to show it off as much as it could rather than telling a story that was worth being told. The story is really just a love triangle with an extra guy involved; there’s no sprucing it up and further beyond that, thought the film does give it an admirable try. As much as I wanted to give this even a moderate rating (it is very well made, and features some interesting shots, and is well scripted), I just didn’t find this interesting enough to warrant a positive, or even a so-so rating. I can understand the film’s importance towards how we tell stories in film today, but for entertainment value, I really can’t see anyone willingly watching this one and getting a whole lot out of it.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10