Francois Truffaut's "Jules et Jim" was a very popular art-house movie in the early sixties. The black and white French (English subtitled) film follows the friendship of two college students in bohemian Paris beginning in 1912. They meet Catherine, a free spirit who loves to shock people as much as she enjoys both men's love. She marries Jules, but is not satisfied. They reunite with Jim and continue their love triangle.
Jeanne Moreau's Catherine is eternally alluring, selfish, manipulating, and cruel. She is perfect as the siren who plays with men as a cat plays with a mouse. Oscar Werner gives a sympathetic performance as the idealistic and vulnerable Jules, who goes from carefree youth to melancholy middle-age. Henri Serre is well-cast as Jim, more quiet and introspective, yet still helplessly drawn to the enigmatic Catherine.
This is the kind of movie one admires more each time you see it. At first, you are dependent on the subtitles; later you just enjoy the flow of scenes, the gradual change in mood from youthful exuberance to subdued acceptance, and then the stark and tragic, yet inevitable, conclusion. If you like character-driven stories about unconventional people, you'll enjoy Jules and Jim.
on 17 December 2014
François Truffaut's celebrated love story Jules et Jim represents the French New Wave at its most delightfully accessible. Based on a Henri-Pierre Roché novel (which Truffaut found in the bargain bin of a second hand bookshop on the bank of the River Seine) it tells the story of a menage à trois, the three way relationship between the title characters and the mysterious Catherine which spans 30 years from before World War One to the mid '30s and is set mostly in and around Paris with long sequences at a house in Germany's Black Forest. Jules (a magnificently sensitive performance from Oskar Werner) is Austrian, a quiet introverted type who craves a devoted wife and mother for his future children. Jim (the suave sophisticated Henri Serre) is French, a self-confident extrovert who eats life. They meet in Paris (conveyed in a lightning-quick blink and you'll miss it introductory sequence) and become firm friends. An acquaintance Albert (Serge Rezvani) shows them a slide show in which the two are entranced by a statue of a woman's face. Learning the statue resides in an open air museum on the Adriatic, they journey to see it in the flesh. Back in Paris they meet Catherine (the unforgettable Jeanne Moreau), the spitting image of the statue they are so entranced by. The two men are hooked and the fun and games commence.
Catherine isn't so much a person as a free spirit who changes character like a chameleon depending on who she's with. She obviously enjoys being the center of attention between the two men, but has relationships with other men as well throughout the film. She is implacable, impossible to understand and the cause of a veritable maelstrom of confused emotions and feelings inside every male that crosses her path. In Antonioni's hands, she would have been portrayed as a neurotic. Truffaut however ignores the undoubted depressions that must assail her, choosing to celebrate her light effervescence and for the most part the film fizzes as a deliciously frothy celebration of free sexuality and the joy of life (it was controversially given an X certificate by the French censors for its "dubious morality"). The early sequences are especially enchanting until the destruction of the war changes things, the two men fighting on opposing sides and scared to death of perhaps one day having to kill each other. Post-war, Catherine has married Jules and is living in the Black Forest with their daughter Sabine. Jim comes to stay. On the surface things go on as before and there are several enchanting sequences involving the child - play acting at the dinner table, rolling around in the grass, running through the woods and going on extended bicycle rides. All of this is under-scored by Georges Delerue's immortal music. Tensions simmer beneath everything however and Jules allows Jim to marry Catherine in order for them all to keep together. There are scenes of one pacing his room while Catherine entertains the other in her bedroom, but even in the film's latter stages Truffaut keeps the tone light and the denouement when it comes isn't so much tragic as the natural outcome of lives lived on the whim of the moment.
Much of the film is rendered through a voiceover narration (by Michel Subor) which distances us from the characters along with the usual barrage of New Wave ticks and tropes courtesy of cinematographer Raoul Coutard - freeze frames, pans, masks, wipes, dollies, jump cuts and the incorporation of still photographs and newsreel footage. All of this is applied with great subtlety. Style never draws attention to itself as it does so irritatingly in much of Jean-Luc Godard's work. One of the most telling touches is the moment when the men see the statue in the museum. Truffaut underlines their ardor by a series of jump cuts to produce a montage of angles which heightens the visceral excitement. He uses the same technique when we meet Catherine for the first time. We never notice if she looks like the statue or not. It is the visual treatment alone that tells us this is the same face and we know immediately the men are as rapt with Catherine as they are with the statue.
This encourages us to interpret the film further. If Catherine is not a character so much as a kind of "free spirit" then what do the other characters represent? Underneath the surface frivolity and joy of life in this film there is a dark allegory on France and what happened to her in the first half of the 20th century. Jim is the Frenchman epitomizing his romantic culture. Jules is the Austrian epitomizing the serious Germanic culture. Catherine is the French indecision that arose out of the moral quagmire of World War One. Before the war everyone was happy, but following France's victory (and embarrassing early losses) things became politicized - tensions caused by the peace settlement at Versailles and the economic turmoil of the Weimar Republic. French nationalism and German rearmament leading to the later German occupation of World War Two silently lie behind Jim's eventual spurning of Catherine and his decision to marry Gilberte who has been waiting for him all these years. The polarization of society as the Nazis gain power (there is a scene where all three watch newsreel footage of book burning in the Studio des Ursulines, a famous cinema which could be seen as a metaphor for France looking at the rise of Nazism across her border) leaves Catherine's "free spirit" hopelessly cut off from the darkening world around her. This leads to the car crash into the Seine and the final picture of the Austrian walking away. It is the Austrian that survives, not the French characters who disappear into long years of German occupation in the years after the film finishes. The car disappearing into the river driven by the free spirit who can't decide anything is a perfect metaphor for a split French society also destined to be drowned.
It is to Truffaut's huge credit that the allegory as I have somewhat heavy-handedly described it is rendered so subtle that it never spoils the flow of the lightness that carries through the film - Catherine even smiles as she drives off in the end. Throughout the film there are pointers - war newsreel footage, Jules singing the Marseillaise to Jim over the phone to disprove his Austrian accent, the famous German beer versus French wine conversation and the concluding Nazi book burning in the cinema - which might just slip past us if we don't pay attention. Truffaut isn't known for being a political director, his interest being always much more in the positive aspects of human relationships and especially in children, but in this film it definitely plays a part even if the main concern is with human relationships structured around one of the most sexy, life-enhancing and vivacious performances to be found in cinema anywhere. Forget Brigitte Bardot's lusciously curved form in Godard's Les Mepris from the following year, Jeanne Moreau exudes greater erotic energy with a palpable naturalness which is completely beguiling despite us never seeing so much as an inch of her body. Jules et Jim is a film to savor, one which even those normally put off by Nouvelle vagaries can surely appreciate as well.
on 19 July 2004
"She is the greatest sweetheart in French cinema. While gangsters and gangs kill each other, she dances in a tutu in a circus, is tortured by a sadist and makes her way through bursts of submachine-gun fire, with thoughts only of love. With trembling lips, wild hair, she ignores what others call 'morals' and lives by and for love. Messieurs, producers and directors, give her a real part and we will have a great film."
Francois Truffaut wrote this of Jeanne Moreau in 1957. Shortly afterwards, when fascination turned to friendship, the burgeoning director's greatest ambition would be to make a film with the woman who had become the most important person in his life.
In JULES ET JIM, Jeanne Moreau's is a performance of touching beauty and lucidity that is unparalleled in cinema. She is Catherine, the woman in love with life, who in turn falls in love with both Jules and Jim (superb performances from Oskar Werner and Henri Serre), amateur scholars, dandies, and the closest of friends. Over the following years, through joy, disillusionment, a world-war and parenthood, the three share a relationship that defines love itself; as Catherine alternates her pledge of devotion from Jules to Jim, and even to other men, our heroes explore a friendship that has been touched by a soul who is "not a woman" but rather "...an apparition".
But Catherine is not "fatale"- rather the very essence of woman, whose divine right it is to live as she pleases, when she pleases, where any potentially ruinous consequences are the unfortunate fruits of an unmitigated love of love itself. Truffaut's art is one that invokes the Goddess, embodied here by an enigma of extraordinary grace and power. His camera laughs with her, cries with her, and encapsulates with amazing dexterity the flow of movement - the whirlwind of life. The theme of JULES ET JIM - a triangular love affair that questions monogamy - is unhindered by any sensuality or sexual intimations. Instead it is a love that is pure, chaste and eternally resonant. The remarkable tact of Truffaut's direction, the refutation of showiness, conveys a cinema of charm and elegance, as the film's mood undulates in accordance with the whims of our great love Jeanne Moreau - from untold joy to the heavy burden that is the awful truth.
JULES ET JIM is a film of harmony and genius, a hymn to life that asks the audience not to judge, but rather to experience and to love. We can relate to the film Truffaut's own words, when, speaking of Nicholas Ray's JOHNNY GUITAR and Howard Hawks' BIG SKY he said: "Anyone who rejects either should never go to the movies again, never see any more films. Such people will never recognize inspiration, poetic intuition, or a framed picture, a shot, an idea, a good film, or even cinema itself."
on 19 October 2009
Not only a gem of the Nouvelle Vague, Jules et Jim is a cinema great. One of the finest achievements of that most serious of talents, Truffaut, this film is lively and fun from the start; who says a serious cultural experience can't be enjoyable? Jules et Jim is deservedly one of the best-loved art house films ever made.
Although it was her two films with Louis Malle in 1958 that made her a New Wave icon, it was this role that brought Jeanne Moreau perhaps her greatest international acclaim. Not at all like her jazz-soaked, stylish debut with Malle, Jules et Jim nevertheless deals with very Nouvelle Vague concerns, not least the central menage a trois subject matter.
Highly recommended to all film fans.
on 12 January 2004
A wonderful and heartbreaking tale of one woman and the two men who both love her, and whom she loves back. Inevitably she choses one and the isolation of the other is heartbreaking. The most exquisite tale of a love triangle. That said, the film is more than some sentimental Dawson's Creek-esque saga.
Furthermore, with the film being from the French New Wave there are the compulsory 'arty' moments, playing with character, sound, narratives and camera angles and motion.
And if all that fails, it is the film which the black and white Sixpence None the Richer video for "Kiss me" as based on so it's worth a look just for the referential interest.
This is one of my favourite films and although that does not mean that others will find it automatically great, it is an interesting and heartbreaking film. Beautifully interesting sums it up perfectly.
Jules et Jim has a particularly remarkable performance from Jeanne Moreau as the whirlwind that spins the two eponymous characters like rag dolls, only to leave them bedraggled and torn in the sidings once she has blown who knows where ... A magnetic presence in her every expression, to the extent that some of them are freeze-framed like a butterfly pinned to the card for endless appreciation, Catherine seems to embody something of the spirit in the moment, always in the moment until she is no more. This intensity of being has rarely been caught by any other actor or actress quite to this extent, and then there is her voice ... The kind of obsession suffered by both male characters is generally more physical in origin, at least to some degree. It is interesting how little Catherine's body is the key thing here, compared to, say, Brigitte Bardot, who was exactly that, at around the same time, Marilyn Monroe, or, on the male side Joe Dallesandro, actors who all embody that charm through the body itself. With Moreau it is different. The film has a delightfully light style, particularly in the first hour, which makes it frothy as well as profound. It is beautifully sustained by Oskar Werner as the soulful Austrian who can have no other woman, and seems destined to be forever bereft. It could be argued that Truffaut's evident falling under Moreau's spell - as he did all his actresses - makes him as patient with her as Jules, where the viewer might find her a bit trying in her wilful, erratic behaviour in the later stages of the film. I think this does undermine it a bit, but it is a bit like criticising a great Rodin sculpture - they are set in the canon for all time, and all romantic triangles seem to point back to this one, which surely remains the most compelling ever filmed.
on 19 June 2011
One of the most prominent films of the French New Wave; with the scene of the three main characters running across the bridge, arguably being one of the most iconic images of the era.
I watched it as a follow up to The 400 Blows and to see the film that is so often referenced in discussions about French cinema.
I am pleased the say the film lives up to its reputation as a classic; being well acted and with an involving plot. Although Jeanne Moreau rightly gets a lot of credit for how she played Catherine, I thought Oskar Werner was excellent as Jules.
Even the cinematic tricks of freeze framing certain shots and bringing a scene in from the top right of the screen; rather than seeming dated are actually nice references to the time and the innovation of Truffaut and other new wave directors.
An enjoyable film and a must see for fans of the French New Wave. If you are a fan, a book worth reading is 'A Short History of Cahiers Du Cinema' by Emilie Bickerton which tells the story of the influential magazine and references Godard, Rivette, Rohmer and of course Truffaut.
on 7 April 2003
You have to be wide awake to enjoy this film - no Hollywood spoonfeeding here ! This film still surprises - despite today's flashy camerawork and effects, there is a constant creative and original use of unusual edits and shots which is simply astonishing. The music is beautiful and there are moments of great profundity amongst the fizzing champagne of a screenplay. Truffaut's obsession with shoes here alone says more than most directors achieve in a lifetime. The shot which follows the actors outside from inside the house - it is impossible to convey the many levels of meaning in so many stunning sequences -the depth of intimacy in one love scene shot entirely in the dark - so much in just one film !
on 8 February 2016
I can't see why people still rave over this. If ever there was a case of a film 'telling not showing' this is it. I know it was groundbreaking in it's day but I suspect this was more for the subject matter than the quality of the work. But a film needs more than this to be truly great. It is poorly made by today's standards. It has no soul. The narrator tells us what the characters are thinking and feeling, and so is telling us the viewer too. This makes it a cardboard cutout piece. I felt nothing for the characters, could not walk beside them and feel what they felt. The actors said their lines but little more. Consequently I felt nothing for the film. I was glad when it finished. But it could have been so much better. Time for a remake I think from a sensitive director, a great screenwriter and some talented actors.
Francois Truffaut's "Jules et Jim" is rightly regarded as one of the classic French films.Although it is in black and white and was made 43 years ago, it still has a freshness and vitality to it. It is a visionary film, portraying a very 21st Century morality in which Jeanne Moreau's capricious and passionate Catherine is the love interest for two friends, Jules and Jim . Jules and Jim are two scholarly socialites with little interest in monogamous relationships until the bewitching Catherine comes along. After Jules marries her, he soon realises that cosy domesticity is not for Catherine and their marriage quickly becomes an "open" one and his friend Jim gets drawn into a love triangle with her.
The film must have been very controversial in the 1960's as it glamourises adultery and pre-marital sex and is essentially amoral, making a mockery out of the marital institution. However it is a captivating story, well acted with strong characterisation, the music is great and the film is directed well by Truffaut. I must admit to feeling sorry for Jules and Gilberta as Moreau's turbulent Catherine ("une force du nature") causes them so much pain.Like Bardot in "Le Mepris", Moreau portrays a woman whose "me first" characteristics and morals are very much part of the zeitgeist of this decade.