Francois Truffaut, one of the founders of the French New Wave, has come off a string of successful films from his 1959 hit “The 400 Blows” and the 1960 film “Shoot the Piano Player”. But in 1962, Truffaut was in love with Henri-Pierre Roche’s semi-autobiographical novel “Jules et Jim” and having known Roche (as Roche was heavily involved in artistic avante-garde in Paris and the Dada movement), an adaptation of the novel was created.
The film did well in France and eventually captivated critics and viewers and help establish the careers of Jeanne Moreau (“Elevator to the Gallows”, “The Lovers”) as the quintessential Nouvelle Vague actress and also would show Truffaut’s diversity as a director.
“Jules and Jim” takes place before, during and after World War I. Jules (played by Oskar Werner, “Lola Montes”, “The Spy Who Came from the Cold”) and his best friend Jim (played by Henri Serre, “Concorde Affair”, “The Mandarin”, “House of 1000 Pleasures”) love having fun, flirting with women and both share an appreciation of the arts and the Bohemian lifestyle.
“Jules and Jim: is perhaps Francois Truffaut’s most beautiful film ever made. The film showcases its fun and vibrant nature on the opening credits but don’t be fooled, this is not a film that is about three people having an open relationship, this is a film about friendship and relationships over the years and the finality of ones love when one really loves someone but knowing that they can’t be with that person. What else can you do?
For the most part, “Jules and Jim” is definitely the antithesis of Eric Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales”. In fact, “Jules and Jim” was criticized for its amorality by the Legion of Decency. But I am not surprised. You have three people with a woman having a relationship with both men. Adultery is a theme and conservatives can only be sickened by Catherine’s free-spirited ways and wonder about her daughter Sabine. While others can see this film and not focus much about the amorality but three people who care for each other but are torn by the way of life that they are used to. The film was not made to showcase amorality, the film was to showcase Henri-Pierre Roche’s life with his best friend and a woman that he cared about. It is a love story but in Truffaut’s film, it’s a tragic love story.
Jules is a man who loves Catherine but has not been the man to please her through marriage. Very well reserved, she is his life but is not the man to tame her wildest desire. That is where Jim comes in. Catherine and Jim are sexually connected but unlike Jules, can not have a family with her. Thus a conundrum as she loves both men for different reasons and these men happen to be great friends with each other.
Aside from the story’s conundrums, one can’t help but enjoy the setting of when this film takes place. Although shot in the ’60s, this is France during the teens. Featuring an artistic style with three intriguing characters, “Jules and Jim” shows us a different side of Francois Truffaut, outside of Antoine Doinel but showcasing a woman that embodies nouvelle vague. If Godard’s muse Anna Karina showed that free-spirited style in “Pierrot le fou”, Jeanne Moreau shows another free-spirited style through Catherine who has lived on through the decades with people still entranced by the song “Le Tourbillon”.
Overall, “Jules and Jim” is a classic film that can definitely be appreciated by the new generation of movie fans who have discovered French nouvelle vague but most importantly, wanting to discover the wonderful films in Francois Truffaut oeuvre. Highly recommended!