François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim” starts with an excited narration that tells the story of a friendship between two men – one French, one Austrian-. They meet in Paris and become best friends. “Each taught the other his language and culture. They shared an indifference for money.”
The Austrian Jules is unsuccessful at dating. Each of his dates turns out to have a particular flaw that makes him uninterested. He tries to be with a professional, but that won’t work for him either. The whole sequence of Jules trying his luck with different girls gives you this strange feeling that is not what this movie is about and we are in the early stages of getting into a much more complicated story.
Watching “ Jules and Jim” is a nostalgic trip to the times when filmmaking giants like Godard, Resnais and other New Wave cinema directors revolutionized French cinema. The film is François Truffaut’s third (He made “The 400 Blows in 1959 and “Shoot the Piano Player” in 1960). Even though Godard’s films are considered to be very influential in the development of New Wave cinema, “ Jules and Jim” remains to be one of the best examples of a form of filmmaking that refuses to play by the rules. There is something in the movie that appears fresh to the 2017 audience and unthinkable for the audience of 1962. The energy and, life that comes from the screen rekindles the relationship of the audience of today with the silver screen. It is no wonder that Americans copied Truffaut’s style in “ Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) just a few years after the release of “ Jules and Jim”. “ Jules and Jim” and “ Bonnie and Clyde” defined the sixties just to live stealthily in the corner of our minds like a hippie who dressed up in a suit and became a bank clerk in the seventies.
Truffaut’s masterpiece is an adaptation of a novel by Henri-Pierre Roche (1879-1959) who had lived through the events of the story. He was one side of the love triangle between Jules, Jim, and Catherine in real life. Roche wrote “ Jules and Jim” towards the end of his life, but the autobiographical nature of the story makes you feel like it was drafted by a young man, as Roche had to delve into his youth and recollect the moments described in the book. Roche’s Catherine was still alive when the film was released in 1962. She attended the film premiere anonymously and confessed later:” Yes, I am the girl who leaped into the Seine out of spite, who married her dear, generous Jules, and who, yes, shot Jules.”
However, Jim’s (Henri Serre) character does not perish with a shotgun in the movie (although Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) waves a gun to his face once). Truffaut wanted a more tragic ending than a lover wounding her love, taking the audience by surprise after hearing the four vague words of “ Jules, watch us, carefully!” the director leaves his audience shocked.
Jules and Jim are what one might call soul mates. They were made to be best friends. Once when Jules thinks he has found a perfect girl in Therese – just because she considers herself an anarchist and spray paints on the walls- after realizing he cannot find the love of his life in her, he confides to Jim that “ She was both mother and daughter to me.” Jules and Jim go from café to café and tell each other the stories of women who are not exactly what their mad souls desire.
One day they are invited to watch a slideshow of various sculptures, and they both become infatuated with a statue of a beautiful woman with a calming smile. The smiling woman captures their hearts so much that they decide upon a spontaneous trip to the Adriatic to see the statue. After they come back to Paris, they meet Catherine who looks exactly like their beloved icon. Jules becomes close to her and warns Jim that he is not willing to share this girl with him. Jim graciously agrees. They became inseparable. One of the film’s famous shots shows the trio in a rented cottage talking to each other while leaning out of separate windows. One night they go to watch a play, Jules doesn’t like the heroine’s free-spirited persona, Catherine loves it and jumps into the Seine just to show her admirations for her boldness and freedom. It is here that the narrator lets us know that it was her jump that made Jim’s heart weak for her. “ Jules and Jim” is a good example of best use of narration in a film.
Now they are both in love with one woman. World War I breaks out, Jules and Jim fight for different sides – they always fear that they might shoot each other- and Jules takes Catherine to Austria with the intention of marrying her. After the war, Jim goes to visit Jules and Catherine who are now married with a child (Sabine) and live in a cottage near Rheine River. Catherine is not happy. Jules tells Jim that Catherine cheats on him with different lovers. Jules is willing to do whatever it takes to make his Catherine happy. Even if that means sharing her with his best friend. “ If you love her, don’t think of me as an obstacle,” says Jules to Jim generously. Catherine asks Jim to move in with them. Jules contemplates divorcing her so that they could get married. Through all this he still considers Jim to be his best friend. He thinks what they have shared in their youth is so strong that they will survive this. But Catherine does not agree.
“ Jules and Jim,” unlike its name is Catherine’s film. It is an hour and a half of Jeanne Moreau captivating the audience with her stunning performance as Catherine. Her way of showing Catherine’s discontent is brilliant; it is in every inch of her body, it is in her face, it is even in her laughter. Perhaps it is her magic that we aren’t convinced that Catherine’s unpredictability indeed comes from her madness.
Historical aspects of World War I also being showed in this love story – Nazi book burning scenes. Truffaut also uses original newsreels of the war to make the story more believable. The film’s cinematography is as unconventional as it can be even by today’s standards. It is as if camera floats throughout the story. It breaks all the rules of how to shoot a movie set by the Hollywood directors and cinematographers.
The fact that the film goes through the time so quickly is actually one of its strong points. It is precisely as if an old man [Roche] is sitting at a café and goes through his memories to tell this story. It is exactly a trip in Roche’s mind, with happy days of youth floating by and days of sadness fading away in a dark passage.
Roche’s Catherine doesn’t need a psychiatrist to diagnose her of some form of hysteria – like Hitchcock drags a professional into the story to explain Norman Bates’s behavior in Pyscho (1960).Jules and Jim is a story of three friends whom unable to recreate the happy days of youth fall into the claws of sadness. It is one of those rare films that shows the inconsistency of human emotions in the best way possible.