#126. Daybreak (1939)

My brother just moved in with us for a month, as he’s got a small homeless gap between leaving one apartment in the second week of April and moving to his new place in the second week of May, and his transition happened to coincide, by freakish chance, with some gun violence on the periphery of his life; the death of three people he worked with until a couple weeks ago. And so he’s grieving. Also probably shaken up with thoughts of what if I was there? And so when I put Daybreak on lat night, moments after he left for the gym, and the very first scene showed someone getting shot — which sets the tone for a movie whose premise is the flashback/explanation to that shooting — I ended up watching the whole thing leaning forward, prepared to shut it off, flinching at anything that sounded like my brother coming back.

daybreak haySo I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have, had the circumstances been a little more relaxed, but Daybreak turned out to be a good time anyway. It’s got a couple scenes, one of which is a restaurant conversation between Jean Gabin and Jules Gerry, that — if you’re watching it like I was, with a couple drinks in your belly — is bound to get you glassy-eyed. The other of those two scenes is a monologue by Gabin who, after professing his love for Jacqueline Laurent, spreads himself out on what looks like a haybale and tells her what it’s been like to jump, all his life, from one shitty job to the next. Says that he always feels like he’s waiting in the rain for a bus to show up but when it gets there it’s full, and so’s the second bus, and so’s the third.

Beautifully done, by a beautiful guy. Not sure if it’s more apt to call him the French Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, or Bogart, but he’s incredible.

My job at the restaurant has me oscillating daily between wanting to quit right now, free up my schedule and put all my chips into finding a real full-time job, while another part of me is quick to point out that I’ll have zero income from the college between August and the midpoint of September, and that I’ll need this job when that time comes. Thinking about it for any stretch of time also reminds me of the hundred-odd jobs I’ve applied to in the past year and the fact that this restaurant gig is really the only one that even acknowledged my application.

There’s a remark in Daybreak about people winding up right back where they started in life, which is meant to kinda foretell the movie’s ending (which itself takes us back to the opening scene, this time with more context), but it also made my skin crawl because that’s kinda what’s scaring me right now. Will I ever make it into publishing, et cetera. Will I be limping through a restaurant when I’m 40, or trapped in some teaching gig that I hate (and is one of those fates worse than the other)? Will every novel I write, that I get totally immersed in and fall in love with and labor over, just end up getting rejected and setting me back to square one with a new project? Will every bus that comes my way in the rain prove too packed to house me?

daybreak confrontation.jpg

Daybreak is a really achingly-told love story wherein nobody’s love is requited. Triangles on triangles. And in that sense it seems pretty honest.

I’d almost group Daybreak with Jezebel and Stella Dallas as a movie that, though not quite crafted with a nihilistic bent, left me feeling gutted. Hopeful, but broken. Daybreak isn’t as powerful as those two movies, I don’t think, but it’s close; and we’re privy to a different Jean Gabin here than we saw in Pepe le Moko or Grand Illusion, a more vulnerable and solitary performance, and it’s this that affords the movie a special bleak strength.

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