Jules and Jim (1962)

Review #1,338

Director:  Francois Truffaut
Cast:  Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre
Plot:  Decades of a love triangle concerning two friends and an impulsive woman.

Genre:  Drama / Romance
Awards:  Nom. for 2 BAFTAs - Best Film from any Source and Best Foreign Actress
Runtime:  105min
Rating:  PG
International Sales:  MK2

“We played with life and lost.”

So many positive things have been said about Jules and Jim that, without seeing it, one sometimes feels left out of any conversation on director Francois Truffaut.  I have finally seen it, and despite being universally regarded as one of Truffaut’s greatest, and a cornerstone of the French New Wave, the film left me disappointed.  It did not resonate with me as much as I'd hoped. 

One reason is that the film is too full of itself, trying to pride itself as a free-spirited entity that has no rules, flip-flopping its way through the complexities of love and life.  Headlined by Jeanne Moreau as Catherine, who is emblematic of the film's shifty nature, Jules and Jim might be considered bohemian—perhaps even anarchic—in the context of its period setting.  Perhaps this is also a reason it remains a beloved classic of French cinema.

Set through the course of a few decades, Jules and Jim brings the two title characters together, embodied by Austrian actor Oskar Werner and French actor Henri Serre respectively, firstly as the best of friends, and later chasing the same woman of their dreams.  That woman is of course Catherine, whose infectious energy and almost nonchalant attitude towards marriage and love would seduce and frustrate both men equally. 

Truffaut gives us performances that range from the sober to the stylized, though his characters are far too removed from society to earn any form of sympathy from us (or is it me?).  I have to admit that I found the film emotionally stifling, which is curious and ironic because Jules and Jim is as exuberant and expressive a movie as Truffaut has ever made. 

Shot by the legendary Raoul Coutard, the poster boy cinematographer of the French New Wave, Truffaut's work is not short of creativity and vitality, with fascinating 360-degree pans, floating aerial shots, and the use of superimpositions of two images together in unexpected ways.  Georges Delerue's beautiful music also works its magic. 

Jules and Jim must have been a wonder of its time, seemingly refusing to accept the conventions of cinematic storytelling, and dealing with its themes radically.  It is a love story for the ages—and for some, the greatest love triangle ever put on the screen. 

Adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, Jules and Jim is fiercely feministic—Catherine makes her own decisions and toys with the archaic notion of gender conformity.  Some may argue otherwise though—for every blip and downfall, she is seen to actively lead the destruction of any union.  Jim and Jules, of course, remain the best of friends. 

Verdict:  Overrated and perhaps too full of itself, but one can’t deny the vitality and creative spirit of Truffaut’s early work.  


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