In a film about making a film Francois Truffaut places himself in front of and behind the camera to express the potent mix of fantasy and reality which leaks its way onto a film set. The film tells the story of a production plagued by mishaps, crises, deaths and rewrites. The director, played by Truffaut, wishes to create a work of art and literally dreams of great cinema. His sporadic dream sequences showing him as a young child picking up scraps from directors previous to and greater than himself. One can almost imagine that the whole film was born out of a failed production which could only be saved through comedy.
While this has the potential to be a tragedy, or at least a bath of self-pity for any struggling director to wallow in, it is in fact more like a farce. The glamour of cinema is stripped back to reveal the prosaic elements, a candle with a hidden light, a balcony with no house attatched, a million money saving trompe l’oeils. You can’t help but wonder why this industry thrives, what is the human fascination with seeing people on a screen when we know of the fallacy? It’s like a huge in-joke but no one remembers how it started. Truffaut draws attention to these ideas repeatedly, sometimes showing us shots from the imaginary movie they are creating and sometimes panning back so we can see the boom mics and cue cards. One actress has suffered so greatly from this detachment of reality that she cannot cope with the make-up girl being an extra. About halfway through a woman screams directly at camera that she “hates your cinema”. The fourth wall is broken and this simple, make-up shunning woman is left asking the audience why they are even watching.
At times the film descends into montage, these sequences are self-mocking. They are framed with enthusiastic, hopeful music and everyone seems to be thoroughly enjoying themselves making a jolly good movie. This parodies everything the film itself has just shown us, the arguments, the upsets and the disasters, which eventually fade away into a generally good impression. The same actress who regularly breaks down on set laments the passing of the shooting. The whole proceedings seem ridiculous to the observer and will seem ridiculous even to those involved, as they re-observe with the passing of time. The whole thing ridicules the goal of recording a story when the real story is happening around you. In its way the film expands the existentialist ideals, everything you ever see is effectively a film set with each person watching life go by and waiting around for their moments. It is not the exact events that set any one story apart but rather the attitude with which they are approached. If you cannot laugh at your own estrangement from reality no one else will. The film wraps itself up by presenting this ultimate irony to the audience with spectacular wit and style.