Friday, August 12, 2011

Jules & Jim

Originally Written and Posted at on 6/12/08 w/ Additional Edits.

After the release of the 1959 seminal masterpiece Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows), Francois Truffaut helped usher in a new era of French cinema simply known as the French New Wave. Helping breaking the doors down for new directors like Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Renais, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette. A year later, he followed up with Tirez Sur Le Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) in his tribute to American cinema. Though it was well-received and loved by many, it wasn't as good as his feature-film debut. In 1962, Truffaut returned with what some considered to be his masterpiece about a love triangle told through the years in the early 20th Century before, during, and after World War I entitled Jules et Jim (Jules & Jim).

Directed by Francois Truffaut, Jules et Jim tells the story of a shy Austrian writer and his extroverted French friend whose lives change through meeting of a young woman. Based on the semi-biographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roche and adapted by Truffaut and Jean Gruault, the film is an exploration into a love triangle that lasts for many years as two men compete for the woman they fall for as well as their desire to please her. Starring Oskar Werner, Henri Serre, and Jeanne Moreau. Jules et Jim

It's 1912 as a shy, Austrian writer named Jules (Oskar Werner) meets a Frenchman named Jim (Henri Serre) as they become friends over their love of Bohemia and women. Yet, with the extroverted Jim often flirting with many women including his frequent lover Gilberte (Vanna Urbino), Jules managed to briefly date a young woman named Therese (Marie Dubois). When they decided to meet their friend Albert (Boris Bassiak), he showed them a slide of pictures he took that included a statue that the two men are entranced by. They go to the site to see the statue as they believe she has the image of the perfect woman. Days later, they meet a free-spirted woman named Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) whom they immediately fall for. Though she is more attracted to Jules, she enjoys her company with them as she dresses up like a man and go on a foot race. For a while, everything seems to be fine and everyone is having fun.

Then World War I begins as Jules and Catherine flee to Austria to be married as Jules has to go home to serve his country while Jim stays his France to fight for his country. For years, the war ravaged on as both men are afraid to kill each other. When it ends and both men surviving, Jim decides to visit Jules at his home in the Austrian mountains. Arriving at the station, Jim meets Catherine and her daughter Sabine (Sabine Haudepin) as they revisit old times and such. Yet, Jim begins to notice that the marriage between Jules and Catherine is disintegrating with Catherine now engaging in numerous affairs with men. Catherine confesses to Jim about her affairs including one with their old friend Albert, who was wounded in the war. An attempt to seduce Jim almost happens as Catherine tries to figure out her happiness. After a visit from Albert that reawaken old times, Jim finally professes his feelings for Catherine.

Living in their home and with Jules' blessing, Jim and Catherine begin their affair as for a while, everything seems blissful following their wedding while Jim returns to France to finish a few things. During their marriage, things start to die down when the bliss the trio seem to share start to wane. Catherine's marriage to Jim is worse than her marriage to Jules where she and Jim separate for a few months where Jim returns to Paris to meet with Gilberte. Learning that Catherine is pregnant, he isn't sure if he believes her considering her mood swings and cold behavior. When he learns it's true, he plans to return to Austria only to learn that an accident had occurred and their relationship is officially over. With the years gone by, Jim runs into Jules who has returned to France with Catherine. Yet, Catherine's attempts to win Jim back proved to be challenging as an event would change the lives of Jules, Jim, and Catherine.

Love triangles often involved a woman in love with one man while the other man is in love with her. Yet, what makes this love triangle interesting is the fact that it's about two men, who are both in love with the same woman and are willing to share with her. The only problem is that she'll love this guy for a moment and then go for the other guy for another moment. Yet, it would cause problems for herself as one guy tries to accept it for what it is while another seems to have enough. Still, the two men remain devoted to their friendship and love for the woman while the woman is trying to keep this bizarre love triangle intact.

Co-screenwriter and director Francois Truffaut creates a film and story that is truly exhilarating in the exploration of this love triangle that spans throughout the years in the early 20th Century told through a narrator (Michel Subor). The narrative is unique for revealing the emotions and what happened during the time frames when dialogue isn't involved and such. The first act is about Jules and Jim being attracted to this free-spirited, exciting young woman who likes to make them happy and challenge their personalities as she chooses the shy Jules.

The second act that follows the events of World War I as Jim goes to Austria to spend time with Jules, Catherine, and their daughter Sabine. He also watches the marriage disintegrate as he comes to term with his feelings for Catherine. The third act begins with his return to Austria to marry Catherine and their own marriage disintegrating that leads to the lost spirit and excitement of the relationship between the trio with Catherine still trying to bring that unpredictability back.

Truffaut' direction is evocative with the use of stock footage to convey the sense of the times and the different locations of Paris in the first act, Austria in the second, and the French suburbs near Paris in the third. It's a worldly film that moves as the camera just captures the relationship in its sense of spirit and movement. The scenes themselves are truly memorable from the race on the bridge to the interaction between everyone at Jules' Austrian home. It's a mesmerizing film from start to finish as Truffaut captures the scenes with great compositions to present the scenes as they're being shown. The result is a truly fascinating, stylistic, and evocative direction from the late Francois Truffaut.

Cinematographer Raoul Coutard does superb work with the film's black-and-white film stock as well as the use of hand-held cameras to capture the drama of what's happening. Coutard's look in the black and white is brilliant and also, beautiful in the scenes he's shooting while using early examples of tracking shots for the film's memorable racing scene. Coutard’s work is truly amazing in every shot he creates with in large part to Truffaut's presentation. Editor Claudine Bouche` does a superb job with the film's editing in its emphasis on style. Using jump-cuts, freeze frames, dissolve transitions, and other styles, the film moves very leisurely yet energetic to capture the film's sense of style and spirit as Bouche`'swork is phenomenal. Art director & costume designer Fred Capel does a great job with the look of the period clothing as well as the set decoration for the different places and locations that occur.

The music of George Delerue is absolutely brilliant from its upbeat, melodic score for the film’s early scenes to more sweeping, dramatic score with his eerie string arrangements. Delerue's rich score is a highlight in the many of the film’s technical highlights as it plays well to the film's emotional spirit. One piece of music written and performed by Boris Bassiak entitled Le Troubillon is sung by Jeanne Moreau which is a great, folky song that has Moreau singing very beautifully.

The cast is truly unique with small but memorable performances from Marie Dubois as an anarchist named Therese who enjoys smoking like a train, Sabine Haudepin as Jules and Catherine's daughter Sabine, and Boris Bassiak as their longtime friend Albert. Vanna Urbino is also good in her role as Gilberte, Jim's lover in Paris who has been a constant companion of his as his frustrations towards Catherine leads him to Gilberte. Oskar Werner is great as the shy, resigned Jules who is soft-spoken and reserved as he marries Catherine first only to feel unhappy as he tries to observe everything quietly while letting Jim take a chance on Catherine. Werner's performance is very subtle and charismatic as a man who watches everything unfold.

Henri Serre is brilliant as the extroverted Jim who likes to flirt with women but once he meets Catherine, he admires her from afar as he waits for his chance to be with her. Serre's performance is great for its restraint and earnestness as he tries to be a great man for Catherine but also Jules' best friend as he is a man filled with internal conflict that encourages him to push people away that becomes his weakness. Finally, there's Jeanne Moreau in what is truly a fabulous, sprawling performance from the legendary actress. Moreau is full of spirit, energy, and charm in the film's first act as she goes from this charismatic young woman to a disenchanted wife searching for love in the second act. Moreau's complex, evolving performance is amazing to watch as she carries the film with a lot of charm, energy, and spirit as it's definitely one of her defining performances.

Jules et Jim is a fun, romantic, and certainly worldly film from Francois Truffaut featuring amazing performances from Jeanne Moreau, Henri Serre, and Oskar Werner. This film isn't just one of Truffaut's finest but also an essential film of what is representative in the French New Wave. While some might prefer the angst of Les Quatre Cents Coups, Jules et Jim is a great film for the romantic at heart who might enjoy bizarre love triangles. In the end, Jules et Jim is an exhilarating masterpiece from the late, great Francois Truffaut.

© thevoid99 2011


Andy Buckle said...

I started watching this about a week ago, but I realised it was quite an odd, unique film and it would require more attention than I was willing to give that night, so I stopped it. Soon, I'll return to it!

thevoid99 said...

It's been a while since I've seen it. I want to see it again. I hope Criterion gives it an upgrade for its DVD release.

Cinemecca said...

Great flick; great (and thorough) review, sir!

thevoid99 said...

@Cinemecca-Thank you. Expect some reviews of French films coming later in the month or in September as I'm set to re-edit some old Gus Van Sant reviews.