Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Fatal Circuits. Marcel Carné. Daybreak (Le Jour se lève)

[The following is quotation. My commentary is bracketed in red.]

Fatal Circuits
Marcel Carné
Le Jour se lève

Gilles Deleuze

Cinema 2: The Time Image
Cinéma 2: L'image-temps

From Recollection to Dreams: Third Commentary on Bergson
Du souvenir aux rêves (troisième commentaire de Bergson)

The two poles of the flashback: Carné, Mankiewicz
Les deux pôles du flash-back : Carné, Mankiewicz

The relation of the actual image to recollection-images can be seen in the flashback. This is precisely a closed circuit which goes from the present to the past, then leads us back to the present. Or rather, as in Carné's Daybreak, it is a multiplicity of circuits each of which goes through a zone of recollections and returns to an even deeper, even more inexorable, state of the present situation. Carné's hero, at the end of each circuit, finds himself back in his hotel room besieged by the police, each time closer to the fatal outcome (the window-panes smashed, the bullet holes in the wall, the succession of cigarettes . . .). But we know very well that the flashback is a conventional, extrinsic device: it is generally indicated by a dissolve-link, and the images that it introduces are often superimposed or meshed. It is like a sign with the words: 'watch out! recollection'. It can therefore, indicate, by convention, a causality which is psychological, but still analogous to a sensory-motor determinism, and, despite its circuits, only confirms the progression of a linear narration. The question of the flashback is this: it has to be justified from elsewhere, just as recollection-images must be given the internal mark of the past from elsewhere. The circumstances must be such that the story cannot be told in the present. It is therefore necessary for something else to justify or impose the flashback, and to mark or authenticate the recollection-image. Carné's response here is very clear: it is destiny which goes beyond determinism and causality; it is destiny that sketches out a super-linearity; it is destiny that both justifies flashback and provides recollection-images with a mark of the past. Thus, in Daybreak, the sound of the obsessive refrain comes from the depths of time to justify the flashback, and the 'anger' carries the tragic hero away to the depths of time to deliver him to the past. [footnote 6: cf. the analysis of Jour se lève by André Bazin, Le cinéma français de la libération à la nouvelle vague, Cahiers du cinéma/Editions de L'Etoile, pp.53-75.] But if the flashback and the recollection-image thus find their foundation in destiny, it is only in a relative or conditional way. Deleuze Cinema 2, 1989: 46a-46d]

Le rapport de l'image actuelle avec des images-souvenir apparaît dans le flash-back. C'est précisément un circuit fermé qui va du présent au passé, puis nous ramène au présent. Ou plutôt, comme dans «
Le jour se lève » de Carné, c'est une multiplicité de circuits dont chacun parcourt une zone de souvenirs et revient à un état de plus en plus profond, de plus en plus inexorable, de la situation présente. Le héros de Carné, à la fin de chaque circuit, se retrouve dans sa chambre d'hôtel investie par la police, chaque fois plus proche de l'issue fatale (les vitres brisées, le trou des balles sur le mur, la succession des cigarettes...). On sait bien toutefois que le flash-back est un procédé conventionnel, extrinsèque : il se signale en général par un fondu-enchaîné, et les images qu'il introduit sont souvent surexposées ou tramées. C'est comme un écriteau : « attention ! souvenir ». Il peut donc indiquer par convention une causalité psychologique, mais encore analogue à un déterminisme sensori-moteur, et, malgré ses circuits, ne fait qu'assurer la progression d'une narration linéaire. La question du flash-back est celle-ci : il doit recevoir sa propre nécessité d'ailleurs la marque interne du passé. Il faut qu'on ne puisse pas raconter l'histoire au présent. Il faut donc que quelque chose d'autre justifie ou impose le flash-back, et marque ou authentifie l'image-souvenir. La réponse de Carné est très claire à cet égard : c'est le destin qui déborde le déterminisme et la causalité, c'est lui qui trace une surlinéarité, c'est lui qui donne à la fois une nécessité au flash-back et une marque du passé aux images-souvenir. Ainsi, dans « Le jour se lève », le son de la ritournelle obsédante vient du fond du temps pour justifier le flash-back, et la « colère » emporte le héros tragique jusqu'au fond du temps pour le livrer au passé. [note 6: Cf. l'analyse du « Jour se lève » par André Bazin, Le ciné français de la Libération à la nouvelle vague, Cahiers du cinéma-Editions de l'Etoile, p. 53-75]. Mais, si le flash-back et l'image-souvenir trouvent ainsi leur fondation dans le destin, c'est seulement de manière relative ou conditionnelle. [Deleuze Cinéma 2, 1985: 67a-68; 68d]

The Inadequacy of the recollection-image
Insuffisance de l'image-souvenir

the flashback [...] gets its justification from elsewhere; Carné's destiny [Deleuze Cinema 2, 1989: 51c]

le flashback [...] reçoit une justification d'ailleurs, le destin de Carné [Deleuze Cinéma 2, 74a]

Larger and larger circuits
Des circuits de plus en plus grands

Daybreak moves towards this limit, the hero getting nearer to an inescapable death. [Deleuze Cinema 2, 1989: 53d]

Le jour se lève » tend vers cette limite, le héros s'approchant d'une mort inévitable.
[Deleuze Cinéma 2, 1985: 76-77]

Ch. 4
The Crystals of Time
Le Cristaux de temps

The actual and the virtual: the smallest circuit
L'actuel et le virtuel : le plus petit circuit

in Carné, in
Daybreak, all the circuits of recollection which bring us back each time to the hotel room, rest on a small circuit, the recent recollection of the murder which has just taken place in this very same room. [Deleuze Cinema 2, 1989: 66d]

chez Carné, dans «
Le jour se lève », tous les circuits de souvenirs qui nous ramènent chaque fois à la chambre d'hôtel reposent sur un petit circuit, le souvenir récent du meurtre qui vient justement d'avoir lieur dans cette même chambre. [Deleuze Cinéma 2, 1985: 92d]

The problem of film music: sound crystal, gallop and ritornello (Nino Rota)
Problème de la musique de cinéma : cristal sonore, galop et ritournelle (Nino Rota)

This is already true in the Western, where the little melodic phrase comes as the interruption of galloping rhythms [...]. But the two elements are also combined as in
Daybreak by Carné and Jaubert, where the basses and the percussion give the rhythm while the little flute launches the melody. [Deleuze Cinema 2, 1989: 90b.bc]

C'est déjà vrai du western, où la petite phrase mélodique vient interrompre les rythmes galopants [...]. Mais aussi les deux éléments se mêlent comme dans «
Le jour se lève » de Carné et Jaubert, où les basses et les percussions donnent le rythme tandis que la petite flûte lance la mélodie. [Deleuze Cinéma 2, 1985: 123b.bc]

[There are a number of things we will look-for in this film. In the first place, it opens with a man who is shot and falls down a staircase.

(Video should play, despite not showing an image until then.)

This begins the movie. The main character is inside the room, and he shot the other man. The police come, and 'besiege' him in his room.


The "actual" time of the movie takes place from that moment until dawn the next morning. Yet much of it is recalled in flashback. So the "virtual" time of the movie are the imagined expansions into the past. There are three of these flashbacks. We will draw from
Bazin's analysis, which Deleuze refers-to in the footnote.

The main character has three flashbacks, leading-up to the present, with the final one being a flashback of the murder that started the movie. Let's first review
Bergson's notion of the expanding circuits of memory.

We might currently have an impression. Let's call it O

The impression is sent immediately to our minds and forms a memory image. We call it A.

But this motion is instantaneous, like an electrical circuit. And just as soon as the impression arrives in our mind, our mind then sends it back to our senses and contracts it with the object being sensed.

All the while, time has passed. So a past impression of the object superposes upon a newer one. This creates a modified sense-image, which we call B'.

But then likewise, this new modified image is sent to our minds. And just as soon as it arrives there, it is instantly sent back to perception, again.

This process continues, and the circuits keep expanding.

What we notice is that the past is always concurrent with the present. In a sense, we cannot have the present unless the past is concurrent with it. In Carné's film, this becomes evident. While in the present, we hear a steady drum-beat, as a sort of refrain (we will listen for it soon). It gives us the sense that even while we were transported to the virtual past, we were still progressing in the present. It is the main character, living in the present, whose mind is concurrently expanding into the past. When he recalls events from the very distant past, he expands to one of the larger circuits in his mind. And as his recollections come further more-and-more to the recent past (all the way up to the event at the beginning of the movie, his act of murder), the circuits become increasingly 'deeper'.

So we will follow the hero's constricting circuits of recollection.

First see how the police shoot at the hero, smashing his windows.


Now we will see his first flashback. Notice how the image dissolves from the present one to the past one. Again,
Bazin's analysis is illuminating on this point. He writes that cinema cannot, like literature, use a tense-shift from a present to a past tense, in order to indicate that we are going back in time. Carné must shoot the hero's room as it is in the present and also in the past, but Carné while filming cannot transport himself through time. He needs some technique to indicate that we are moving to a past time. He uses a dissolve, which is like a cross-fade in music. The present image fades-out just as the memory-image fades-in. This reminds us of how when we drift into reverie, our eyes go out of focus, while the real images before us fade into imaginary ones.

So here is the first flashback. Note how, as Deleuze observes, he returns to the broken panes of the window.


Later he has a second flashback. In this clip, notice the ''obsessive refrain' of the drum and bass. They play in the present, and give a sense of him marching toward his fatal end. We sense that the main character also feels himself marching toward this fate. His feeling of immanent doom is then the cause for him to reflect on how he finds himself in this predicament. The drum-beat, then, in a way has its feet in both the past and future, all while playing in the present. It is as though his destiny arises from 'the depths of time' to deliver him to the past. We might also say that the drum-beat is eternal in a way, because it seems to stand outside of time, being in all times in one sense, but in no time in another sense. The flute melody fades-in as he drifts into the past, which gives us the dreamlike and nostalgic feelings we have when recalling our pasts. Also note how he comes back to the bullet-holes in the wall, portending his fate.


Before seeing the last flashback, let's consider the hero's succession of cigarettes. Bazin notes how he runs out of matches, and so he must light each new cigarette with the prior one. This means that the hero must remain vigilant. And his smoking vigil in a way gives us the impression of a rhythm or cycle in the passing of time, and it reminds us of how the present carries him toward his end, even though he escapes backward into the past. Then, when his last cigarette goes out, we can sense that he is at the threshold of his fate.


Now we will see the third flashback. Recall that the movie begins with the murder. The hero commits it out of anger. Bazin writes that his flash of anger before pulling the gun on the man is what seals his fate of committing murder and then shortly after shooting himself.

Now at the end of the movie, as dawn is breaking, he expresses his anger again, this time at the crowd outside his window. This anger (already carried-over from the murder itself) is what then causes him to flash-back to the murder event. So in a sense, his anger is what seals his destiny, while also being the cause for him to recollect how he found himself upon this inevitable path.


Then at last, the hero resigns to his fate.


Consider the following animated diagram, which I hope clarifies our interpretation of how destiny is the cause for the flashback, in the case of the hero's anger. The blue line is the past. The red is the time that passes in the present, through the duration of the movie. The film begins with him angrily murdering the man, who is a love rival. This anger seals his fate. Then he has his first recollection of meeting the woman they are competing-for. Soon after, he recalls more of the story. Then, now in the present, he expresses his anger to the crowd below. This triggers him to recall the same anger which he expressed when committing the murder. This completes the circle of the narrative in the movie, moving from just after the murder, then backwards, to right up to and during the murder. Finally, he kills himself. The diagram is also meant to show the "multiplicity of circuits each of which goes through a zone of recollections and returns to an even deeper, even more inexorable, state of the present situation" (Deleuze 1989: 46a).


Presumably, the hero's circuits of memory continue to expand as time goes on and he adds more to his memory. But for recollection, we seem to see the opposite process, where the most recent memory is the "deepest".

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Transl. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London & New York: 1989.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinéma 2: L'image-temps. Paris: Les éditions de minuit, 1985.

Bergson, Henri. Matière et mémoire: Essai sur la relation du corps à l'esprit. Ed. Félix Alcan. Paris: Ancienne Librairie Germer Bailliere et Cie, 1903. Available online at:

Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Transl. Nancy Margaret Paul & W. Scott Palmer. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2004; originally published by George Allen & Co., Ltd., London, 1912. Available online at:

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