Jules and Jim is a lighthearted film that addresses the nature of fidelity by exploring a love triangle. As Francois Truffaut once said, “Monogamy is impossible, but the alternative is worse.” Though the subject matter may be controversial, the beauty of Jules of Jim is that it functions as a showpiece for great filmmaking. Truffaut creates a gorgeous film employing so many narrative devices that it is a jewel of French New Wave cinema because it breaks storytelling conventions and explores edgier subject matter.
- Director: Francois Truffaut
- Writer: Francois Truffaut, Jean Gruault
- Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre
The year is 1912 and a special friendship develops between Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre). Jules is a foreigner in Paris and unlucky with women. Jim is much more of a ladies man. Together, they form a bond and become mesmerized by a statue with a mysterious smile. Soon after, they meet Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), a magnetic free-spirited girl. Both men fall for her, and a complicated triangle of attraction begins.
Truffaut is known as being a masterful storyteller, and Jules and Jim is a perfect example of why. The photography is beautiful, shot in Franscope (another version of Cinemascope), capturing Paris and the French countryside. Camera placement and movement is chosen to great effect. In one scene, when all three protagonists decide to race across a bridge, Truffaut appropriately chooses to go with a handheld dolly shot that captures the free and vulnerable nature of their lifestyle. Shortly thereafter, Catherine suddenly plunges into a river, reminding us that we’re dealing with an unpredictable personality. While the three protagonists are not always people that we can sympathize with, Truffaut conveys a sense of honesty with respect to their contrasting perspectives on life. Given the passion of the lives involved, Jules and Jim also feels somewhat unreal, almost like a meditation on opposing viewpoints on love. Having been adapted from a 1953 semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, the dialogue and narration in Jules and Jim feels honest and nuanced.
The writing cannot be emphasized enough. Based on a novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, Traffaut was wise to recognize the life captured within the pages of Roche’s book. The narration throughout the film is both poetic and informative, though Truffaut doesn’t rely on words — he exposes each character through their understated behavior and revealing visuals. When Jim and Jules are forced to fight on opposite sides in World War I, Truffaut provides narration describing their predicaments and feelings that’s supplemented with war footage that resembles a documentary. This feel of adds an important layer to how overlapping romantic feelings are presented. While the writing is precise in its ability to articulate the characters, we come to interpret the film with a somewhat detached view into a group of people who find themselves fighting their own battles in search of love and truth.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
Ebert’s review does a great job of placing Jules and Jim within the context of the French New Wave and its influence on cinema. Having established its historical importance, Ebert then describes the plot with a touch of his own insight. One of his most interesting observations about the plot states that “their tragedy is that they shared a magical youth and that adulthood will not and cannot accommodate it. No practical arrangement of their lives can duplicate the freedom of their early days in Paris.” He later adds to that by saying, “It’s about three people who could not concede that their moment of perfect happiness was over, and pursued it into dark and sad places.”
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GREAT
Do you like Jules and Jim? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: to be determined
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim this week, he now has 326 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.