Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim is one of the most tragic and poetic love triangles ever made about two men: one French the other Austrian, who fall for the same woman who is clearly, morally unstable. The character of Catherine is one of the most interesting character studies of the cinema; a woman who on one hand, has a exciting love and passion for life and excitement, and on the other hand, is selfish, narcissistic and clearly takes advantage of the weak. She is the type of person who will never let other's wrong her and yet believes she has the right to wrong anyone she pleases no matter how destructive her actions can be. The film goes through several decades of these three character's lives, showing a woman who has given Jules and Jim life and joy, as well as sorrow and unhappiness. Jules and Jim was released in 1962, which was at the creative peak of the French New Wave, and it was Truffaut's third feature after the success of his debute The 400 Blows and Shoot the Piano Player in 1960. Many usually site Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless as the most influential film that started the French New Wave, but Jules and Jim was the most audacious and lovable incorporating such New Wave aesthetics as newsreel footage, photographic stills, freeze frames, panning shots, wipes, masking, dolly shots, and voice-over narration. The French New Wave was considered a certain European art form during the late 50s and 60s and was a movement led by a group of young filmmakers that included Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette who were connected to the magazine ‘Cahiers du cinema’. The idea of The French New Wave film was that it should seem personal and freewheeling, where the directors often chose to shoot on location, using natural lighting and often using hand-held cameras which added to the experimental feel of the films. Key themes explored in the French New Wave include breaking the distinguishing boundaries of realism, and the idea of exploring the relationships between men and women. With films of The French New Wave there was a fresh excitement and joy in the way the films were created with its raw style and spontaneous energy, and you can clearly see that energy and style in Jules and Jim. You can later see that same energy in the late 60's American films starting with Bonnie and Clyde (which Truffaut was originally going to direct) and the Anti-establishment films of youths and rebellion against authority and society. Jules and Jim were the flower children of the 60's as the film also explored strong ambitious women and the liberating freedoms of female sexuality. Some people look at Jules and Jim as being a highly feminist film and the unbalanced character of Catherine to be a strong liberating female character, which is an interesting theory since the ending of Ridley Scott's Thelma and Louise, which is also considered a highly feminist film, has a striking parallel ending to Jules and Jim. The hypnotic power of Truffaut's masterpiece is how he masterfully manipulates his audience into blindingly falling for the character of Catherine right along with Jules and Jim, as we too ultimately allow ourselves into becoming another one of Catherine's many victims.
The film is set before, during and after the great War World War in several different parts of France, Austria, and Germany and in the magnificent opening of the film you hear a carousel of music and a breathless narration on how Jules and Jim met. 1912, Jim (Henri Serre) is a foreigner in Paris and asks Jules (Oskar Werner) if he is able to get him into the Quatres Arts ball. Jules gets him an invitation and they immediately become friends when rummaging for costumes. They start connecting and sharing culture and language with each other and you see that Jim is good at picking up girls but Jules is not. Jim tries hooking him up on several dates but it doesn't work out because they are either too silent or too talkative or otherwise flawed; and although he tries a professional, that's not the answer either. This is a magical opening sequence which hurdles through the early lives of its characters, knowing the real story is still to come.
Jules one night meets a girl named Therese and Jules decides to take her back to his place. There's a classic scene of Therese showing him the 'steam engine' trick with her cigarette popping the lighted end of it into her mouth and blowing smoke out the other end as the camera follows her around the bedroom. That relationship doesn't last long though as she later leaves Jules at a bar for another man. Jim says to Jules there is always another woman. Jules says, "She was both mother and daughter to me."
Jules and Jim share an interest in the world of the arts and the Bohemian lifestyle and while attending a slide show of sculptures with a friend of Jules named Albert; they become entranced by a statue of a goddess with a serene like smile. So they then decide to travel to the Adriatic to see the original statue, and one day Jules invites Jim over because his family is having guests. One of the guests they meet is the free-spirited, spontaneous Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), whose face and smile looks exactly like the statue.
Jules starts seeing her for about a month and one day invites Jim to meet her but not before saying, "I've spoken of you so much. Catherine's eager to know you better. But, 'not this one' Jim...okay?"
In one of the most enchanting and classic parts of the film Catherine is dressing up as a man who she names Thomas, putting on a fake mustache and wearing men's clothing. "Now for a test in the street," she says as she puts a cigar in her mouth and goes outside and tries to see if she can fool anyone. When Catherine is successful at it, Jules and Jim are moved in ways they don't understand. "First one to the end of the bridge," Catherine says as they take off but not before Catherine with her winning the race.
Jules, Jim and Catherine all start to hang out together and there is a famous shot which shows them in a rented cottage at a beach, talking as they lean out of their separate windows. When they all three go walking she is between the two men holding both their hands.
"You think I'm right to ask to marry her?" Jules asks Jim. "Is she cut out to be a wife and mother?" questions Jim. Jules says, "I'm afraid she'll never be happy on this earth, and she's a vision for all perhaps not meant for one man alone." They go biking and swimming together and Jules finally proposes to Catherine and she reluctantly agrees.
Over time within the marriage you notice Catherine getting bored with Jules and while Jules and Jim are playing a board game together she starts calling attention to herself by making jokes with Jules not really listening. When she asks if someone could scratch her back and Jules makes a smart remark she slaps him. They all laugh uncomfortably and Catherine smiles and says, "I never laughed before I met you two, before I always looked like this." The shot freezes on her unhappy expression she is showing them, "but now it's like this." And it freezes with her smiling.
After a movie walking out with Jules and Jim; Catherine says, "I like the girl. She wants to be free. She invents her own life every moment." Jules and Jim start arguing over what they didn't like about the character and while they are debating the details of the story, Catherine gets up on a ledge and impulsively jumps into the river. Jules and Jim help her out of the water while her hat drifts away in the current.
The narrator then describes what Jim is feeling when she made that plunge, "Catherine's plunge into the river so astonished Jim that he drew it the next day, though he didn't usually draw. Admiration for Catherine welled up in him and he sent her a kiss in his mind."
No one speaks of her jump for the rest of the night and before Jim leaves for the night, Catherine asks him to meet with her at a café the next morning to ask of his advice and he agrees.
Jim arrives late like usual but doesn't see her. He thinks, "A girl like that might well have left at 7:01." He starts to leave at 7:30 and leaves right before she arrives. He gets a call that very night from Jules with Jules telling him that him and Catherine are going into the country to get married and that she's sorry she was late because she was at the hairdressers. Jim replies by saying, "If I'd known she might still come, I'd have waited til midnight."
Suddenly war breaks out and both men serve during the war; however, they serve on the opposing sides, and each fears throughout the conflict that he might have killed the other.
Truffaut shoots scenes of the war by showing newsreels of real WWI documentary footage. After the war Jim receives parcels from his girlfriend Gilberte and spends a week with her. When she asks about his friend Jules he says how he hasn't seen him since his marriage and is afraid he was killed in the war.
After the war Jim meets up with Jules hearing he and Catherine were married in Austria and now have a daughter named Sabine. He decides to visit Jules and Catherine's house and when arriving Catherine is there to meet him at the train station with her daughter. Jim felt when seeing Catherine that she was making a long-delayed appearance from the café rendezvous and dressed up especially for him.
When Jim gets to their house he sees Jules. "So you won the war you louse!" yells Jules breaking the quiet tension. Jim says, "I'd would have rather won all this" as he looks at Catherine and their daughter Sabine.
Over the next few days there Jim senses there is something wrong with Jules and Catherine's relationship. Before bed Jules talks to him and tells him about him and Catherine. "When things go too smoothly, discontent sets in. She lashes out at everything with gestures and expressions. She claims the world is rich and that one can cheat a little now and then. She begs God in advance for forgiveness certain she'll obtain it. I'm afraid she may leave us. For six months I thought she'd never come back. I can feel she's ready to leave again. She's had lovers, three that I know of. I'm accustomed to her occasional infidelities, but I couldn't stand to see her go."
One evening before bed Catherine asks Jim if he is free later, and he says he is. When Catherine starts reciting the names of countless French wines; Jules ignores her and starts talking to Jim about the war. Catherine slowly gets up and before leaving looks at Jules and says, "catch me."
She runs out of the house with him quickly following and Jim follows her to the woods. They start to have long talks and Jim tells her all about himself and his friendship with Jules, the supposed meeting at the café and how he believed Jules could never keep her. She talks about all her lovers during the past years with Jules and Jim even questions how her son doesn't look like Jules but she tells him he can think what he wants, but it's Jules. She talks about how she had an affair with Jules' friend Albert and how Albert wants to marry her.
During the next day Albert comes by and there's a great scene that evening where Jim plays the guitar and Catherine sings the words while Jules and Albert listen while the shot fades out showing all four of them biking down a long hill.
Jim one night tells Catherine why it didn't work out with Gilberte and says he wants someone more risky and adventurous. He finally lets out his love for Catherine and Jules sees them being tender with one another.
The next day Jules tells Jim that Catherine doesn't love him anymore and he's terrified he'll lose her. He says, "The last time I seen you too together you looked like a couple. Love her, marry her, and let me see her. I mean, if you love her, stop thinking of me as an obstacle."
When Jim sees Catherine that evening he gives into his temptations and they spend the night together in his room.
Jim eventually moves into their house and takes the small room upstairs but Jules says, "be careful Jim. For her sake and your own." There is a uncomfortable and sad scene of Jules outside with his daughter while Catherine is inside making love to Jim.
The narrator quotes: "They were known in the village as the tree lunatics, but were well liked." At night she would kiss Jules goodnight and then make love with Jim, but one night Catherine decides to seduce Jules while Jim is downstairs. Jules resists at first while wrestling around on the bed with her and even though Jim knows not to be jealous; he still is.
Jim is then called to Paris and has to leave but not before Jules tells him that he and Catherine are getting a divorce. Catherine discusses with Jim how when he comes back from Paris they will get married and have kids of their own.
In Paris Jim stays with his ex Gilberte and is open about it in his letters back home to Catherine which worries her. Knowing he is their with Gilberte she's always asking Jules "Do you think Jim still loves me?" Jim decides to stay later than he planned because of Gilberte and when Jim returns Catherine isn't there to meet him because she is upset he took so long in Paris.
When him and Jules get to the house Jules tells him that Catherine left and hasn't come back since yesterday. Jim decides then to leave and go back to Paris but Catherine comes back right when he is about to leave. She spends the night with Jim saying, "Now you're mine and I'm yours. All is well. But in your letters, you spoke so much of your affairs. Well, I have my own. You spoke of bidding farewell to your loves. I decided to bid farewell to mine too. We want a child, don't we? Well, if I had one now, I wouldn't know if it was yours. I had to do it. It was the only way to settle the score between us."
After a few months pass they start trying to have a child but are struggling and see a specialist; which doesn't help. Catherine eventually gets angry and doesn't want to make love to Jim anymore knowing they will never have a child and tells him to leave and go back to Gilberte. "I'm heartless. That's why I don't love you and why I'll never love anyone. Are you hurt? Then I'll stop being hurt. We mustn't ever both suffer at once. When you stop suffering, I'll start."
She angrily leaves the room and walks into Jules room. She tells Jules she can't stand Jim anymore. She thinks Jules despises her but he says he would never despise her and she cries and tells Jules she loves him.
The next morning Catherine takes Jim to the train station to leave to Paris. The next train does not arrive until the next morning so they stay at a hotel and make love as a sort of closing to their relationship while Jim thinks of the kids they could have had together.
Jim now in Paris with Gilberte suddenly gets letters from Catherine saying she's pregnant and wants to see him. He writes back making up that he is ill; really because be believes Catherine is either lying or it's not even his. She writes another letter begging to see him; telling him he is the father.
He finally decides to go see her but before leaving he gets a letter from Jules saying, "Your child died early in the womb. Catherine wishes only silence between you from now on."
Years pass and Jules and Jim run into each other in Paris and decide to catch up. Jim asks Jules about Catherine and Jules says that she is suicidal he was scared recently because she bought a gun. Jim introduces Jules to his girlfriend Gilberte and she says how she has heard so much about him. Catherine knows Jules came to see Jim and Jules tells him that Catherine wants him to ride with them the next day, and Jim accepts.
They all ride off into the country meeting up with Albert and they have lunch together. That evening Catherine openly spends the night with Albert. Jules says, "Catherine's motto is: At least one party in a couple must be faithful. The other party..." Jim tells Jules he's going to ask Gilberte to marry him. Jules replies, "You're a wiser man then I. You've realized that with Catherine when it's over, it's really over. Gilberte will make a good wife."
That next morning with Gilberte Jim hears Catherine's car outside as she is circling his parking lot driving in circles over and over. He just ignores her crazy antics and that next day she calls him saying how she doesn't know what she was doing there. She then asks for him; to talk.
When he sees her at an apartment she lures Jim to the bed to try to seduce him but he stops her and says, "We must face the truth. We failed. We made a mess of everything. You tried to change me to suit you. I tried to spread joy, but I've created only pain. I no longer hope to marry you. You must know: I'm going to marry Gilberte. She and I can still have children." Catherine smiles and says "that's a beautiful story" and starts crying. Suddenly her persona quickly changes as she cruelly says to him, "You're going to die. You disgust me, Jim. I'm going to kill you!" She then pulls out a gun calling him a coward but he wrestles the gun away from her and runs out of the apartment.
In the end of the film several months pass and Jules and Catherine run into Jim at a movie theatre. Jim is delighted to see them and they all three leave the theatre and decide to go for a car ride. They then stop at a café and Jules and Jim start talking about the upcoming Nazi Party; and how they are now burning books in Germany. Catherine decides to get up and leave the table and asks Jim if she could speak with him alone and go for a drive.
She hauntingly tells Jules before they leave, "Jules, watch us carefully." In one of the most unsettling and powerful moments of the film while driving off; Catherine turns to Jim and smiles. Her smile she gives him is so natural and easy and also resembles the smile of the statue of the 'perfect woman' earlier that Jules and Jim were entranced by. She then speeds up and drives the car off a cliff killing Jim and herself.
In the last scene of the film Jules watches both of their bodies being cremated and stored in separate compartments and Jules walks away; not so much sad but relieved. He now can live the rest of his life with his loving daughter Sabine never having to worry again of the chance that Catherine could leave him.
FRENCH NEW WAVE
The New Wave was a blanket term coined by critics for a group of French filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s.
Although never a formally organized movement, the New Wave filmmakers were linked by their self-conscious rejection of the literary period pieces being made in France and written by novelists, their spirit of youthful iconoclasm, the desire to shoot more current social issues on location, and their intention of experimenting with the film form. "New Wave" is an example of European art cinema. Many also engaged in their work with the social and political upheavals of the era, making their radical experiments with editing, visual style and narrative part of a general break with the conservative paradigm.
Using light-weight portable equipment, hand-held cameras and requiring little or no set up time, the New Wave way of film-making presented a documentary style. The films exhibited direct sounds on film stock that required less light. Filming techniques included fragmented, freeze-frames, discontinuous editing, and long takes. The combination of objective realism, subjective realism, and authorial commentary created a narrative ambiguity in the sense that questions that arise in a film are not answered in the end.
Alexandre Astruc's manifesto, "The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: The Camera-Stylo", published in L`Ecran, on 30 March 1948 outlined some of the ideas that were later expanded upon by François Truffaut and the Cahiers du cinéma. It argues that "cinema was in the process of becoming a new mean of expression on the same level as painting and the novel: a form in which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel. This is why I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of the 'camera-stylo."
Some of the most prominent pioneers among the group, including François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette, began as critics for the famous film magazine Cahiers du cinéma. Cahiers co-founder and theorist André Bazin was a prominent source of influence for the movement. By means of criticism and editorialization, they laid the groundwork for a set of concepts, revolutionary at the time, which the American film critic Andrew Sarris called the 'auteur theory.'
Cahiers du cinéma writers critiqued the classic "Tradition of Quality" style of French Cinema. Bazin and Henri Langlois, founder and curator of the Cinémathèque Française, were the dual godfather figures of the movement. These men of cinema valued the expression of the director's personal vision in both the film's style and script.
The 'auteur theory' holds that the director is the "author" of his movies, with a personal signature visible from film to film. They praised movies by Jean Renoir and Jean Vigo, and made then-radical cases for the artistic distinction and greatness of Hollywood studio directors such as Orson Welles, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. The beginning of the New Wave was to some extent an exercise by the Cahiers writers in applying this philosophy to the world by directing movies themselves.
Truffaut, with The 400 Blows (1959) and Godard, with Breathless (1960) had unexpected international successes, both critical and financial, that turned the world's attention to the activities of the New Wave and enabled the movement to flourish. Part of their technique was to portray characters not readily labeled as protagonists in the classic sense of audience identification.
The auteurs of this era owe their popularity to the support they received with their youthful audience. Most of these directors were born in the 1930s and grew up in Paris, relating to how their viewers might be experiencing life. They were considered the first film generation to have a "film education", knowledge of and references to film history. With high concentration in fashion, urban professional life, and all-night parties, the life of France's youth was being exquisitely captured.
The French New Wave was popular roughly between 1958 and 1964, although New Wave work existed as late as 1973. The socio-economic forces at play shortly after World War II strongly influenced the movement. Politically and financially drained, France tended to fall back on the old popular pre-war traditions. One such tradition was straight narrative cinema, specifically classical French film.
The movement has its roots in rebellion against the reliance on past forms (often adapted from traditional novelistic structures), criticizing in particular the way these forms could force the audience to submit to a dictatorial plot-line. They were especially against the French "cinema of quality", the type of high-minded, literary period films held in esteem at French film festivals, often regarded as 'untouchable' by criticism.
New Wave critics and directors studied the work of western classics and applied new avant garde stylistic direction. The low-budget approach helped filmmakers get at the essential art form and find what was, to them, a much more comfortable and contemporary form of production. Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, John Ford, and many other forward-thinking film directors were held up in admiration while standard Hollywood films bound by traditional narrative flow were strongly criticized. French New Wave were also influenced by Italian Neorealism and classical Hollywood cinema.
The French New Wave featured unprecedented methods of expression, such as long tracking shots (like the famous traffic jam sequence in Godard's 1967 film Week End). Also, these movies featured existential themes, such as stressing the individual and the acceptance of the absurdity of human existence. Filled with irony and sarcasm, the films also tend to reference other films.
Many of the French New Wave films were produced on tight budgets; often shot in a friend's apartment or yard, using the director's friends as the cast and crew. Directors were also forced to improvise with equipment (for example, using a shopping cart for tracking shots). The cost of film was also a major concern; thus, efforts to save film turned into stylistic innovations. For example, in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, after being told the film was too long and he must cut it down to one hour and a half he decided (on the suggestion of Jean-Pierre Melville) to remove several scenes from the feature using jump cuts, as they were filmed in one long take. Parts that did not work were simply cut from the middle of the take, a practical decision and also a purposeful stylistic one.
The cinematic stylings of French New Wave brought a fresh look to cinema with improvised dialogue, rapid changes of scene, and shots that go beyond the common 180° axis. The camera was used not to mesmerize the audience with elaborate narrative and illusory images, but to play with the expectations of cinema. The techniques used to shock and awe the audience out of submission and were so bold and direct that Jean-Luc Godard has been accused of having contempt for his audience. His stylistic approach can be seen as a desperate struggle against the mainstream cinema of the time, or a degrading attack on the viewer's supposed naivety. Either way, the challenging awareness represented by this movement remains in cinema today. Effects that now seem either trite or commonplace, such as a character stepping out of their role in order to address the audience directly, were radically innovative at the time.
Classic French cinema adhered to the principles of strong narrative, creating what Godard described as an oppressive and deterministic aesthetic of plot. In contrast, New Wave filmmakers made no attempts to suspend the viewer's disbelief; in fact, they took steps to constantly remind the viewer that a film is just a sequence of moving images, no matter how clever the use of light and shadow. The result is a set of oddly disjointed scenes without attempt at unity; or an actor whose character changes from one scene to the next; or sets in which onlookers accidentally make their way onto camera along with extras, who in fact were hired to do just the same.
At the heart of New Wave technique is the issue of money and production value. In the context of social and economic troubles of a post-World War II France, filmmakers sought low-budget alternatives to the usual production methods, and were inspired by the generation of Italian Neorealists before them. Half necessity and half vision, New Wave directors used all that they had available to channel their artistic visions directly to the theatre.
Finally, the French New Wave, as the European modern Cinema, is focused on the technique as style itself. A French New Wave film-maker is first of all an author who shows in its film his own eye on the world. On the other hand the film as the object of knowledge challenges the usual transitivity on which all the other cinema was based, "undoing its cornerstones: space and time continuity, narrative and grammatical logics, the self-evidence of the represented worlds." In this way the film-maker passes "the essay attitude, thinking – in a novelist way – on his own way to do essays."
The Left Bank, or Rive Gauche, group is a contingent of filmmakers associated with the French New Wave, first identified as such by Richard Roud. The corresponding "right bank" group is constituted of the more famous and financially successful New Wave directors associated with Cahiers du cinéma. Unlike the Cahiers these directors were older and less movie-crazed. They tended to see cinema akin to other arts, such as literature. However they were similar to the New Wave directors in that they practiced cinematic modernism. Their emergence also came in the 1950s and they also benefited from the youthful audience. The two groups, however, were not in opposition; Cahiers du cinéma advocated Left Bank cinema.
Left Bank directors include Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Agnès Varda. Roud described a distinctive "fondness for a kind of Bohemian life and an impatience with the conformity of the Right Bank, a high degree of involvement in literature and the plastic arts, and a consequent interest in experimental filmmaking", as well as an identification with the political left. The filmmakers tended to collaborate with one another, Jean-Pierre Melville, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Marguerite Duras are also associated with the group. The nouveau roman movement in literature was also a strong element of the Left Bank style, with authors contributing to many of the films. Left Bank films include La Pointe Courte, Hiroshima mon amour, La jetée, Last Year at Marienbad, and Trans-Europ-Express.
When François Truffaut was a twenty-three-year-old film critic, in 1955, he read a first novel by a seventy-four-year-old writer, Henri-Pierre Roché. “The book overwhelmed me,” he later recalled, “and I wrote: If I ever succeed in making films, I will make Jules and Jim.” Six years later—after constantly rereading and even partly memorizing Roché’s novel—he more than redeemed that promise. Sixties audiences didn’t merely see his movie; they wanted to live it.
Jules and Jim begins in Paris before World War I and introduces us to two aspiring writers. Jules is a shy, diminutive Austrian (Oskar Werner is all pained charm), a born onlooker who masks his aggressiveness as passivity. He can’t get the girls, but his friend Jim can. A lanky, not-quite-dashing Frenchman (played with melting standoffishness by Henri Serre), Jim is a Left Bank Don Quixote to Jules’s Sancho Panza. When we first meet them, they are living out a genial but somewhat lackluster Bohemianism, brimming with talk about writing and women. But for all their love of books, these pals only come alive when they meet the magnificently desirable and dangerous Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). She marries stolid Jules, who’s too low-key and dull to keep her, and becomes the lover of Jim, who refuses to subject himself to her will.
Although the film is named for the men, its animating force is Catherine, a creature both utterly timeless (Jules and Jim first see her visage in a photo of a Greek statue) and forever changing: at different points, she plays the roles of Charlie Chaplin and street tough, vamp and doting mother. Passionate and iconoclastic, she is, in fact, the only true free spirit among them. Just as the men put their talent into their art, so she puts her genius into living—or perhaps into claiming for herself the reckless male freedoms that women have been traditionally denied. Time and again, she literally dresses herself in the garb of masculinity.
On paper, the mercurial Catherine seems an implausibly grandiose conception, a woman both giddy and tragic, protofeminist and male-dominated, driven by Eros and Thanatos, love and death. But as played by Jeanne Moreau, a pop-eyed siren with the ferocity of Bette Davis and the kitty-cat wiles of Tuesday Weld, Catherine becomes one of the modern movies’ triumphant characterizations—the anima as autocrat. Whether playing with vitriol or jumping into the Seine, she elevates capriciousness to an existential principle. When Jim says he understands her, she replies, “I don’t want to be understood.” And this is absolutely true. The movie lives in the shuddering distance between Catherine’s imperious, doomed physicality and the two men’s shifting perceptions of her, perceptions that rearrange but never destroy their glowing friendship.
Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote that the greatest art is about the passing of time. Jules and Jim flies by like a dream, suffused with a sense of life’s evanescence. As the characters grow older, and perhaps wiser, we become aware of how much has been lost—loss of love, loss of innocence, loss of the marvelously lamplit Bohemian past to the searchlight horror of Nazism. An intimate melancholy pervades the movie’s voice-over narration, which adores the characters’ brave inquiry into love’s possibilities but is also wryly aware of the relief that accompanies the end of such inquiries. As critic Andrew Sarris once wrote, Jules and Jim celebrates “the sweet pain of the impossible and the magnificent failure of an ideal.”
Truffaut was not yet thirty when he made this film, and decades later it’s still astonishing that one so young could be so open-hearted, so willing to give everyone’s motives and passions their due. But if Jules and Jim casts a mature eye on the limits of freedom (by the end, everything seems uncannily, but satisfyingly, preordained), it remains indelibly a young man’s movie. It’s a lyrical joyride propelled by leaping, elliptical edits, Georges Delerue’s sublimely evocative score (one of the most memorable in film history), and Raoul Coutard’s ecstatic photography, which helps underscore Truffaut’s visual ideas about the great circle of life. At one point, Coutard’s camera follows a young woman in a bar, does a 360-degree pan, and winds up watching Jules draw another girl’s face on the surface of a round table.
Almost every scene is shot through with such casual stylistic brilliance. Yet what audiences have always loved about this movie isn’t simply its technical brio but its emotional warmth, its embrace of a world in which tragedy is forever playing hopscotch with farce. Jules and Jim is a movie that enters viewers’ lives like a lover—a masterpiece you can really get a crush on.
Jules and Jim was based on Henri-Pierre Roché's 1953 semi-autobiographical novel which was about his relationship with writer Franz Hessel and his wife, Helen Grund. Helen Grund was still alive when the film was released and she attended the première incognito and then confessed, "I am the girl who leaped into the Seine out of spite, who married his dear, generous Jules, and who, yes, shot Jim." Truffaut came across the book in the mid-1950s while browsing through some secondhand books in Paris and later befriended the elderly Roché. Right when reading the novel, Francois Truffaut said: “The book overwhelmed me. If I ever succeed in making films, I will make Jules and Jim.” The author approved of the young director's attempt to translate his work to another medium, and even though in the film Catherine tries to shoot Jim; she doesn't. Truffaut decided to change the end and make it end on a much more tragic and compelling note.
One of the seminal products of the French New Wave, Jules and Jim is an inventive encyclopedia of the language of cinema that incorporates newsreel footage, photographic stills, freeze frames, panning shots, wipes, masking, dolly shots, and voiceover narration by Michel Subor. Truffaut's cinematographer was Raoul Coutard, a frequent collaborator with Jean-Luc Godard, who employed the latest lightweight cameras to create an extremely fluid film style. For example, some of the postwar scenes were shot using cameras mounted on bicycles which gives those scenes and unique and artful approach; most famously the classic race scene across the bridge.
When Jules and Jim was first released it was condemned by the Legion of Decency stating: "The story has been developed in a context alien to Christian and traditional natural morality. If the director has a definite moral viewpoint to express, it is so obscure that the visual amorality and immorality of the film are predominant and consequently pose a serious problem for a mass medium of entertainment."
François Truffaut has made some of the greatest films of all time. He did a film which was a love letter about the inner workings of the movie industry titled, Day for Night which ironically stars Truffaut as a film director. The Last Metro tells a story about an actress married to a Jewish theater owner who she must keep hidden from the Nazis while doing both of their jobs. Shoot the Piano Player was a sort of homage to the American gangster films, about a piano player who has a secret criminal past. And then there was The 400 Blows which next to Jules and Jim is Truffaut's greatest film that tells the story about a young boy growing up in Paris who eventually delves into a life of crime. The 400 Blows is one of the quintessential example of the French New Wave which was also slightly autobiographical on Truffaut's early childhood.
Truffaut always had such a passion and love for films that ever since he was a young boy and while even directing he found time to write about other films and directors, which his personal favorite was Alfred Hitchcock, where he wrote a classic book-length, film-by-film interview with the man and the two actually became very good friends. Starting out as a critic Truffaut decided to want to make films of his own after seeing Orson Welles noir classic Touch of Evil at the Expo 58 which then inspired him to make his feature film début in 1959 with The 400 Blows.
A lot of people could walk away from Jules and Jim and simply think 'Catherine is crazy' and 'Jules and Jim were stupid' for putting up with her, but I believe it is much more complex than just that. The character of Catherine is actress Jeanne Moreau's greatest performance and even though this film is titled Jules and Jim this is really 'Catherine's film.' A lesser actress might have made Catherine mad, over the top or hysterical, and even though those traits are brewing beneath the surface; Catherine depends mostly on being unpredictable and shocking others as a way of testing everyone in her life. Jules and Jim are rather boring, lifeless, dull characters and they know that and Catherine brings them the life and excitement they sadly can't bring to themselves.
Catherine does have a lot of psychological issues, I'm not denying that. I'm not a therapist but I see a lot of depression, Bi-Polar and Borderline Personality Disorder traits with her character. She is a very selfish, narcissistic impulsive person who clearly follows her emotions first before anything else. She likes attention and to have everyone's focus towards her, and is able to get bored with a person very quickly. With her slightly sociopathic tendency's she needs men who are weak and vulnerable; and would put up with her sudden mood changes and constant ups and downs. Any normal strong-willed man wouldn't put up with her crazy antics for more than a minute but Jules and Jim are weak enough where she can do that; and they except her for who she is; flaws and all. She doesn't know what she wants; in which one minute believes she loves Jim and the next minute hates him and believes she loves Jules.
I sadly have met a lot of women who have similar character traits of Catherine and have seen them date men who were weak, had low self-esteem and took the mental abuse (sometimes it even led to physical) their partner gave them. I have seen these men take their lovers back over and over again knowing they have cheated on them several times in the past; and in some cases have even taken care of a child that they greatly question could be theirs. The same of course can go with women being the victims as well; and I know it can clearly go both ways. Jules is the weaker of the two friends and he has admitted to not being very good with the ladies. He even admits that Catherine is too good for him and it's a miracle she even gives him the time of day and eventually comes back to him. He would rather have his best friend sleep with her to keep her in his life, then have her leave him. Jules is a little more independent and strong even though he is also entranced by Catherine's exuberant personality; but would only put up with it for so long.
Catherine will never admit she is wrong and will never let anyone wrong her. She even says in the film; when she is hurt she believes the other person should suffer as well; to make things even for the both of them. She looks at life with people as a scorecard where if someone does something wrong to her she believes in payback and will do so by running away for long periods of time or cheating with other lovers; then the board is wiped clean and they can start over again. Catherine has a disturbing idea on what she thinks is right and wrong, and that she knows the truth from lies. Her absolutism and rules are interesting but she and she alone is only allowed to abide by them in which I believe makes her slightly insane. When Jim becomes an obstacle in winning him back and none of her usual tricks work like it has in the past; she gets hysterical and even violent because this is the first time she is not getting her way.
There's an odd scene early in the film when Jim is watching Catherine pack for a trip and he asks her what she has in her hand. She says, "Sulfuric acid, for the eyes of men who tell lies." I believe this scene is a foreshadowing into Catherine's violent unstable condition; and yet her comments don't faze Jim at all. A lot of people look at her as a "slut" or an unlikable character who has "nasty," "unmoral" qualities but there's a flip side to that idea. She can also be looked at as independent, strong, intellectual and part of the new modern woman. When Jules and Jim are discussing the weaknesses of women when all three are leaving a movie theatre she proves them wrong by jumping into the Seine like a modern-day Zelda jumping over that balustrade. She is determined to live freely as a man (which is symbolic for her dressing up like one as a prank) and wants to claim equality using her sexuality to get what she wants and increase her power in society. She is a very dominating person who lives out her impulsive desires and if she can't get what she wants; she destroys it. She punishes Jim for not breaking it off with Gilberte, yet she hasn't broken it off with Jules. Catherine is the type of woman who can leave men when she wants but if they leave her she becomes helpless and makes life hell for the person who has given her misery.
And the climax of the film I have always questioned why Jim decided to get in the car with Catherine, knowing how unstable she was. I have two ideas for that. Either he thought she got over him and is now doing much better with Jules or he just didn't expect her to do anything so rash at that very moment. Jules and Jim is one of the great masterpieces of the cinema. The legendary director Jean Renoir even said, "I was most jealous of Truffaut in a friendly way with Jules and Jim. I said, 'It's so good! How I wish I'd made it.' Certain scenes had me dying of jealousy. I said, 'I should've done that, not him.'" Roger Ebert included it on his Great Movies list and the film ranked 46 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010. A lot of the power of the film has to go to the great soundtrack of the film by Georges Delerue which was named as one of the "10 best soundtracks" by Time magazine in its "All Time 100 Movies" list. Some critics believe the great song Jeanne Moreau sings in the film is the theme and spirit of the story. Like the lyrics of the song; Catherine, Jules and Jim do "make their way in life's whirlpool of days-round and round together bound until the very tragic end." Jeanne Moreau incarnates the style of the Nouvelle Vague actress especially in Jules and Jim. The critic Ginette Vincindeau has defined this as, "beautiful, but in a kind of natural way; sexy, but intellectual at the same time, a kind of cerebral sexuality, this was the hallmark of the nouvelle vague woman. Though she isn't in the film's title Catherine is the structuring absence. She reconciles two completely opposed ideas of femininity." This is one of the most beautiful films ever made and what makes it such a poignant work of art is how I felt during the film. I, like Jules and Jim have fallen in love with Catherine as well and envisioned her like the statue of purity, which was looked upon as the 'perfect woman.' Similar to the likes of the femme fetale, Jeanne Moreau's character of Catherine is so beautiful, so exciting, so spontaneous and so full of life that I can understand how such a woman can make a man feel; blinding him of all the obvious signs that she is something to stay completely away from. That's what makes Truffaut's film so magical and one of the greatest films ever made.