Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Le Jour Se Lève (1939, Fr.)
(aka Daybreak)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Daybreak (1939, Fr.) (aka Le Jour Se Lève)

In Marcel Carné's psychological, noirish melo-dramatic romance film of impending doom - it was one of the great works of 1930s poetic realist cinema (a precursor to film noir); it was banned by the Vichy government in France after its theatrical release (at the start of the war), for its dark and demoralizing pessimism and political commentary; its flashback structure and shadowy cinematography had enormous influence on Orson Welles (Citizen Kane (1941)) and future film noirs such as Detour (1945); the acting by Jean Gabin provided a model for future method actors such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Montgomery Clift; it was remade by RKO as director Anatole Litvak's The Long Night (1947) with Henry Fonda.

  • the story was about being caught in a deadly love quadrangle (two intersecting love triangles) that had developed between the four main characters:
    - François (Jean Gabin) - a hard-working French foundry factory worker (a sandblaster) in ill-health, living in a drab, seedy and oppressive one-room attic apartment at the top of a six-story building
    - M. Valentin (Jules Berry) - a cruel dog trainer who performed in a vaudevillian nightclub act; he was revealed to be a sinister, manipulative, and dishonest womanizing cad
    - Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent) - a young and naive florist shopgirl looking for romance
    - Clara (Arletty), an attractive, mature and worldly-wise female who had worked for three years as Valentin's dog-show assistant
  • the film's opening (behind closed doors, off-screen): in a jealous rage in his apartment, François gunned down and murdered the Machiavellian Valentin, who emerged from the apartment and tumbled down the stairs dead; the body was discovered by a blindman (Georges Douking) who couldn't understand what had happened; afterwards, François refused to open his door to speak to investigating police - he scared them away by shooting through his door, and then emerged briefly with his gun; the desperate and doomed working-class man decided to lock and barricade himself inside (surrounded by police awaiting daybreak with the building under siege)
  • through a series of slow dissolves as he awaited dawn during a sleepless night while chain-smoking and awaiting his fate, he experienced three flashbacks to recall and reflect upon why he was led to murder; the three flashbacks of memories were interwoven with three efforts of the police to assault and surround the building; the first flashback was prefaced by snipers shooting from rooftops at François' window
  • First Flashback:
    At his work place, he had met Françoise delivering flowers to the assistant manager's wife. He told her: "You look pretty with your flowers. Like a little tree." She was an orphan like himself - and they had similar names ("We've the same name and come from the same place"); he noted that it was St. Francis Day - after which they were both named
Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent) Meeting François
at His Workplace For the First Time
  • François quickly fell in love with her within three weeks and expressed marital interest; he was impressed in her bedroom when he saw postcards postmarked from the Riviera and a strip of photographs taken of him; she talked about her dreams about magical places like the Riviera (and Nice), to escape from the drabness of everyday life: ("The sun shines and there are flowers even in winter"); because of his poor status in life, François could only offer her a bicycle and strolls in the countryside to pick lilacs at Easter time
  • she denied him permission to spend the night (suspiciously she had just ironed a collar for her special dress) because of an "appointment"; to appease him, the demure young girl gave him her one-eared teddy bear as a keepsake that he then attached to his bike; afterwards he secretly followed her as she walked into town to watch a dog show performance by the older, sleazy showman Valentin at a music hall nightclub, a man whose spell had seemed to overcome and enthrall her
Valentin Performing on Stage During His Dog Show
- With Assistant Clara
Clara At the Bar with François
  • at the nightclub's bar during the dog show, François casually met Valentin's dog show assistant Clara, who had just left the stage mid-show; the disgruntled assistant had decided to immediately quit for mistreatment and for Valentin's weaving of a spell over her, and she was expressing happiness with her newfound freedom: "The swine. Women are fools but I top the lot. I must have bats in the belfry to stay 3 years with him...How that man can talk. He has a way of using his hands, as though he kept his spell up his sleeve. He can talk you into anything. Take the Riviera for instance. He starts talking about it and you're right there. That's how he got me - with mimosa"
  • François suddenly realized that the seductive and jaded Valentin was exploitatively weaving his same spell over the unsophisticated and guileless Françoise; the sexually-provocative and flirtatious Clara came onto François, telling him she already liked him; after Valentin's show, the two watched as the dog showman escorted Françoise out the front door of the cabaret, but then returned to speak to Clara, who gave him her official resignation: ("I'm through. The act's over for me"); François backed up her decision - the first flashback ended
  • Second Flashback:
    About two months later, it appeared that the embittered François had become very involved with Clara and was possibly having a casual sexual relationship with her; in a scene when he stopped by at her place, Clara emerged naked from the shower - she nuzzled next to him and described his sight-seeing visit: ("like a tourist") - and their relationship was non-committal: ("You promised nothing and I asked for nothing...Call that a love life?")
  • in a bedroom scene when she complained about being alone at night, he described how his worker status and continual life of drudgery didn't allow for nightly sentimental romance: "Love life indeed. You’re silly. That's all right in books, for chaps with nothing to do. But I slave away all day. I need my sleep at night. But during the day, it depends. Sunday morning, for instance."
  • the two were interrupted by the unexpected drop-in arrival of Valentin who proclaimed that he was an uncommitted romantic who - as an intellectual and upper-class educated man - could live a life of seducing and abandoning females: ("I'm a nomad, here today gone tomorrow")
  • in a nearby bar where François and Valentin retreated, the manipulative, "muddle-headed," and dishonest showman made the dubious, absurd and creepy claim that Françoise was his long-lost daughter; he vowed it was his duty and responsibility to be interested in "the child's happiness," and that François should cease his relationship with her ("You have no money, no future, and bad health. You have an unhealthy job"); however, François continued to date Françoise in a chaste relationship
  • during the sequence of their visit to her florist's lush and abundant greenhouse, she stated emphatically that Valentin was not her father: ("He loves making up stories"); she affirmed to François: "I won't see him again if you want," and François reciprocally promised to break off with Clara: ("And I won't see Clara again") - and they kissed; as she reclined back, he expressed his love for her and how they could be truly happy together, but also how weary, unlucky, and terrible his life had been: “Unemployment, lousy jobs - the jobs I've had to do!. All kinds of jobs, but all the same. Spraying paint, red lead - that's bad for you, too. It's like sandblasting. After a bit, I had to give up. Things were going badly. I set up on my own. It's like waiting for a tram in the rain. It doesn't stop - it's full up. And so is the second and third. You stand there, waiting like a fool. But now, I've got you"; she told him that she loved him too, and gave him a ceramic brooch as a keepsake
  • in the next scene when he broke the news of his love for Françoise to Clara, she stoically and cooly accepted his decision; she described how Valentin had been a despicable and cruel animal trainer - and at times had trained his animals by torturing them with a red-hot iron: "He's rotten. Like a bruised fruit. He knows it. So he hurts others, as consolation. He destroyed something in me, too"; she knowingly showed him a collection of identical cheap brooches that Valentin had given her over time - and to other conquered women: ("All his mistresses get one - she has one too, hasn't she?") - they were similar to the one Françoise had just given to him as a token of their love - the second flashback ended
  • in anger and frustration, François opened his upper-floor window and yelled at the blood-lusting crowd of onlookers on the street below (some of whom regarded him as crazy, or alternatively as a hero): "I'm a murderer, yes! But killers can be met in any street, everywhere! Everyone kills, everyone! Only they kill by degrees, so it's not included. Like the sand that gets into you! Beat it! Go home and read about it in the papers!...All I ask is to be left in peace!"; some of his co-workers and Françoise begged for him to surrender (and then fainted), but he ignored their pleas; the crowds were ordered to disband and leave the square by reinforcements of police officers
  • Third Flashback:
    The final confrontation between Valentin and François occurred in his apartment just before the murder; the despicable and "revolting" Valentin complained of François' meddling in his affair with Françoise, but all François wanted to do was go to bed (he wound and set his alarm clock) and not argue anymore; to taunt him further, Valentin derogatorily referred to François as essentially an ignorant "manual laborer," and then brandished a gun that he had only contemplated using; he admitted he was a "joke" and a "rotter," and then sarcastically called François trusting in contrast: "You're honest, straightforward, and trusting. What a fine thing trust is"; Valentin also made fun of Françoise' gift of a teddy bear to him (with the brooch trinket pinned onto its chest), and intimated that the simple-minded laborer had been blinded by love; the lecherous Valentin also inferred that he had manipulated the youthful and naive Françoise into having sex - and was about to describe the details: "It's funny how simple people get strange ideas about women. Love, romance, of course they love you. it's wonderful to be in love, eh? They don't love me, but I attract them. That's the whole secret. And as I attracted her, she and I - Silly of me, I adore youth! Interested? Like to hear more?"; exasperated with the slimy con artist Valentin who had undoubtedly used 'magic tricks' to exploit her romantic fantasies, François shot him once in the abdomen. The third flashback ended.
  • François was unaware that Françoise (who had fallen in the street and injured her head) was being cared for by Clara in her apartment; she seemed deliriously confused but affirmed her loving commitment to François, and forgave him for loving Clara: "I shouldn't have said I loved him. He's changed, he's not the same. We love each other....He doesn't love Clara, that's all. He can't help not loving her. You love me, François"; Clara wept quietly at the window as she looked out at the 6th story window nearby
  • in the end sequence, it appeared that the police were about to throw tear gas through his window from the roof; however, before they could, the despairing François felt his heart with his fingers, aimed his gun at his chest, and suicidally fired; dead on the floor, the police's tear gas filled his apartment as his alarm clock ironically rang

Death of Valentin Outside François' Apartment

François (Jean Gabin)

François In Love with Françoise

Clara Emerged Naked From the Shower

A Casual Romance

Bedroom Scene: François with Clara

Valentin's Dubious Claim - Françoise Was His Daughter

The Greenhouse Scene: Françoise with François

The Final Confrontation Between François and Valentin

The Murder of Valentin by François

Françoise's Delirious Confessions to Clara

François' Suicide


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