Classic Film Guide

Jour se lève, Le (1939) - full review!

Directed by Marcel Carné, with a screenplay by Jacques Prévert (Children of Paradise (1945)), this average foreign language drama (also known as Daybreak (1940)) stars France's biggest star Jean Gabin as a factory worker named François who commits murder and then reflects on why he did it while the police close in on him in his apartment. Jules Berry stars as Monsieur Valentin, his victim; Arletty plays Clara and Jacqueline Laurent plays Françoise - both women figure in an odd sort of love quadrangle with the two men. In flashback, as the police surround his apartment, shoot the lock off his door, and eventually use teargas, François relives this story:

François meets Françoise at his place of work on St. Francis day, the saint from whom both were named. Both are lonely and they begin dating. Three weeks later, they still haven't slept together (which I guess is unusual in France). She invites him into her humble home for the first time and he notices postcards from the Riviera along side a strip of photographs of him. He is both touched, and curious. When he asks if he could please spend the night, she says no. That she's just ironed a color and gotten in a special dress to go out with someone else that night. He's upset, but he takes her special teddy bear, which she says reminds her of him, and pretends to leave. Instead, he waits around the corner and follows her to a nightclub where Valentin is performing his dog show. As it happens, after 3 years, his assistant Clara has decided she's had enough of Valentin; she leaves him during the performance and meets François in the bar. After the show, François witnesses Françoise going back stage while he talks with Clara. Though he's not really interested in Clara, they talk about men, women, and relationships.

Soon, Valentin and Françoise walk through the bar and out the door. Valentin tells Françoise he can't go with her tonight; she's disappointed (he's ruined her evening) and leaves. Valentin returns to confront Clara, who's "protected" by François; he tells the performer to leave. François and Clara then begin a physical relationship, maintaining their separate residences while he continues to date Françoise. One day, Valentin comes to Clara's apartment and the two men leave to discuss Françoise. Valentin claims that Françoise is his daughter and that he insists on knowing François’s intentions. François, who like Françoise was raised in an orphanage, is angry with Valentin, as he would be if his own father returned to him after letting him grow up the way he did. The men have more words, and part. Later, when François is with Françoise, he learns that Valentin is not her father at all, but that he tells stories like that sometimes. She then gives him a ceramic broach after telling François that she loves him. She promises never to see Valentin again if he'll promise never to see Clara again.

*** SPOILERS ***

While François is telling Clara he won't be seeing her again, he notices that she too has a similar ceramic broach. Clara says that Valentin gives it to all his conquests. Later, in his apartment, François is arguing with Valentin who had come to kill François. But he says it's too hard to do, so he puts his gun on the table between them. As their discussion turns to Françoise, and Valentin's lecherous nature disgusts François, he picks up the gun and shoots Valentin in anger, saying he deserved it. The scene returns to the "present" day where Clara is comforting Françoise, who had joined the crowd gathered outside François’s apartment and fainted. The police say that they will try teargas on François next. They throw it from the roof above down into his apartment and as it begins to smoke we see François lying dead on the floor; he'd taken his own life in his despair after reminiscing with Françoise’s bear and broach.

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