La Nuite Americaine and Citizen Kane

Many of our readings thus far have attempted to grapple with the issue of film’s potential to capture an objective reality. At the risk of overgeneralizing all the authors we have read, the consensus, unsurprisingly, is that film does not capture any sort of reality. Instead, film presents a highly controlled and artificial representation of reality based on the manipulation of the various pillars of film form, as well as the manipulation of space and time. The artificiality of cinema and struggle to portray any form of reality was also at the center of La Nuit Americaine (1973), as the film depicted the creation of a movie. Many of the shots showed the juxtaposition of what one would see if watching the film that was being made and all the equipment and behind the scenes work that goes into creating this “other world.” Thus, La Nuit Americaine offered a metanarrative of sorts, as it sought to showcase to the audience just how fabricated films are. Of course, the viewer should also be aware that this “behind the scenes” take on what goes into making a movie is in and of itself an artificial take on the reality of producing a film.

In order to convey to the audience the difference between cinema and reality, the film employed a number of techniques, such as the overhead shot of filming the pool scene, in which half the pool only had the actress swimming around and the other half of the pool was covered with a platform for the camera to sit on. What was the most interesting means, and perhaps the most mysterious way, to showcase the fabrication of reality that film creates was the repeated dream sequence. Three times, the audience saw the director sleeping; the beginning of these sequences started with a shot of the director sleeping with marquises overlaid, indicating the competing realities of real life versus film. After, the audience was launched inside the head of the director and watched his dream. It was not until the third sequence that we saw the dream play out in full, in which the little boy steals still photos of the film Citizen Kane (1941) that were on display.

The little boy stealing the photos from Citizen Kane is an interesting and subtle way of illuminating what La Nuit Americaine has to say about the reality that film presents as well as all the characters’ struggle to understand the difference between real life and film. Citizen Kane, of course, examines the life and legacy of the recently deceased Charles Foster Kane; the interviews conducted offer multiple realities of the same person, all of which revolve around his public life. The competing versions of Kane, as well as the inability to fully understand his private life, which turns out to be the key to understanding why his last words were “Rosebud” demonstrates the same type of tension between reality and artificiality that film possesses.

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