Jules and Jim

As the enfant terrible of film critics in the 1950s, Truffaut lambasted French cinema for its conservatism. He had a particular dislike for the ‘tradition of quality’, which he considered to be little more than a series of academic literary adaptations. For his own third feature, Truffaut the filmmaker demonstrated how a literary adaptation could in fact be highly cinematic and personal. Based on a novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, Jules and Jim is set in the years before and after World War I and is a tale of friendship and love. What is remarkable about Truffaut’s treatment of the material is the way it shifts with complete ease between gaiety, drama and, ultimately, tragedy, while deploying a battery of cinematic devices-jump cuts, freeze frames, nostalgic iris shots, newsreel footage. Classical references are combined with a thoroughly modern sensibility in this story of a doomed menage à trois. Two Bohemian young men, the German Jules (Oskar Werner) and the Frenchman Jim (Henri Serre), form a seemingly indestructible friendship before their world is invaded by the beautiful but volatile Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). As played by a vivacious and beguiling Moreau, the classic figure of the femme fatale is here invested with surprising amounts of charm and tenderness. Catherine represents an ideal that is to destroy the friendship between Jules and Jim. She is the playful woman-child with no fixed sexuality (all things to both men, separately or together). She is also the goddess of fertility (‘Queen bee’ as Jules puts it at one point) who is primitive and ruthless in her meting out of justice when she is displeased or thwarted. The miracle of Truffaut’s treatment has to do with the way in which his inimitable delicacy and charm succeed in maintaining a balance between lyricism and tragedy.
France, 1962.
English subtitles.
Black and white.
105 mins.

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