Friday, March 31, 2017

Jules et Jim • 1962  
Directed by Francois Truffaut

“I begin a film believing it will be amusing -- and along the way I notice that only sadness can save it.”
– Francois Truffaut

“Jules and Jim talked, and listened to each other.. they accepted their differences with tenderness..they enjoyed little things together... People called them Don Quixote and Sancho Panza”

Francois Truffaut, one of the original surfers of the French 'New Wave', followed his hit biopic The Four Hundred Blows, the screenplay for Godard’s seminal Breathless, and his own gritty noir Shoot the Piano Player with his acknowledged masterpiece: a giddily romantic paean to friendship and idealized romantic love, the irresistible Jules and Jim, a film which, serendipitously, also became a
Henri Serre, Oskar Werner and Jeanne Moreau as the doomed threesome of Francois Truffaut's masterpiece Jules and Jim
prescient and timely depiction of the collision between youthful idealism and the demands and realities of growing up; delighting baby boomers at the dawning of the counterculture revolution with its loving embrace of personal, artistic and sexual freedom, and, as the decade progressed, resonating deeply with a generation rapidly realizing that freedom for its own sake could be very costly, and that maintaining and practicing youthful ideals into adulthood was a difficult and risky business
Jeanne Moreau gives new meaning to mercurial, flighty and moody as Catherine, the irresistibly effed-up love object of
best friends Jules and Jim...
“You told me ‘I love you’ / I told you ‘Wait’ / I almost said ‘Yes’ / You said ‘Go”….

Jules and Jim begins with these clipped, breathless words, spoken by Jeanne Moreau, and they neatly and wistfully summarize the heady swirl of anticipation, happiness and dashed hopes that will  follow. It tells the story of two men, both writers: Austrian Jules (Oskar Werner) and Frenchman Jim (Henri Serre) who meet as friendly strangers in the Bohemian world of artists, anarchists and free-thinkers of 1912 Paris, and form a friendship that survives World War I, professional competition, separation, and most heartbreakingly of all, their mutual passion for the mercurial, flighty, and irresistible Catherine, played to fascinating, charismatic perfection by the incomparable Jeanne Moreau. Intrigued by a bust of a woman they encounter in a seaside

The likeness of ideal beauty that entrances Jules and Jim, and sets up the fatal entanglement to come...
art gallery, Jules and Jim fall in love with its enigmatic smile and promise of love and mystery. Soon after, they meet that smile in the person of Catherine, and embark on a decades long, ever-shifting ménage à trois that progresses from a joyfully innocent mutual friendship, to an affair between Jules and Catherine, to an all-too briefly idyllic post war marriage between Jules and Catherine, to Jules’ ill-fated attempt to satisfy the ever restless Catherine by welcoming Jim into their home as Catherine’s lover. A series of passionate affairs, flirtations, betrayals and unfulfilled expectations propel the film to its still shocking conclusion, as Jules and Jim, whose friendship never wavers, try to navigate the increasingly troubled waters of Catherine’s disintegrating stability.

The giddy happiness of youth, perfectly captured in this iconic still from Jules and Jim.
Just as Michel Subor’s deceptively flat and concise narration conveys a wealth of information in a few beautifully chosen words (Truffaut and Jean Gruault adapted their wise, witty, razor-sharp screen play from an autobiographical novel written in old age by famed journalist and art collector Henri–Pierre Roché), so Truffaut constructs the film itself, taking us through a twenty-year narrative in a breathless succession of profound and telling vignettes. Each of these trenchant scenes, hugely enjoyable in itself, often (especially in the film’s first half) laughter-filled and full of youthful abandon and promise, seems nonetheless to contain a subtle and melancholy gesture or event that presages the tragedy to come: the gentle rainfall that ends the trio’s last truly innocent time together (in a seaside villa) and chases them back to Paris; the fire that almost consumes Catherine as she blithely burns old love letters before moving in with Jules;
Jeanne Moreau, poised to take a foreshadowing leap into the Seine...
Catherine’s sudden, foreboding leap into the Seine after the trio see A Doll’s House that seems to confirm Jim’s assessment that Catherine is ‘a woman with vision, and will never be happy on this earth’. This foreshadowing is particularly remarkable in the subtle touch of the first of George Delerue’s countless great scores: listen to the eerie threatening chords, barely audible, as we see Catherine for the first time, one of many contrapuntal touches that fill Truffaut’s little symphony of emotions. Truffaut is also aided in no small measure by three superb performances. Oskar Werner, as the brilliant, childlike Jules, became a star in Jules and Jim; and enjoyed a lengthy and distinguished career playing a variety of characters who all
The late, great Oskar Werner shares a moment of fleeting marital bliss with Jeanne Moreau in Jules and Jim...
share a common thread of uncommon decency;  Jeanne Moreau, fresh on the heels of her star-making turn in Roger Vadim’s Liasons Dangereuses, cemented her International reputation with her portrayal of a woman whose admirable independence and fearless self-exploration mask an all consuming and self annihilating inner terror. (Worldwide, countless romantic young men, including your writer, left the cinema more than willing to endure heartache and suffering if it meant being loved by such a ravishing
and exotic creature.) 

Passion proves to be irresistable but unsustainable as Jim and Catherine play out their affair in the shadow of Jules' sorrow...
Henri Serre, whose Jim lacks the demonstrative flamboyance of his Menàge-mates, is often neglected in appreciations of Jules and Jim, but his quintessentially French diffidence and cool hide a core of quiet passion, slow to ignite and hard to put out, and his performance is the emotional and narrative center of gravity of the film.

While typically New Wave in its nervy disdain for traditional propriety of narrative and pacing, Jules and Jim is never lightweight or self-indulgent, and Truffaut’s ability to imbue his gayest moments with washes of quiet melancholy and his saddest passages  with equal measures of barely contained effervescent joy and humour are the emotional underpinning and sustenance of this unusually sentimental and vulnerable example of Nouvelle Vague. What Jules and Jim does share with its New Wave compatriots is its unabashed and unfettered delight in the act of filmmaking itself, but even here, Truffaut excels and surpasses. With all its use of antique film clips, bits and pieces of other art forms, odd framing and wipes, abruptly ending scenes and sudden shifts of mood and tone, Jules and Jim never intrudes on its viewers with its devices, and shows none of the subversive self-consciousness of say, Godard in his more self-referential moments; while it may be fun to pick apart stylistically from a distance of 35 years, upon first viewing, Jules and Jim never seems less than a seamless and entrancing whole.

Against the backdrop of Truffaut's beautifully rendered pre-war Paris,  Jules and Catherine announce their impending marriage.
With its passionate embrace of the pleasures of creativity, daring exploration of unconventional relationships, rejection of political and social norms and irrepressibly freewheeling spirit, it is no wonder that Jules and Jim struck a chord with a youthful pre-Woodstock audience; its vibrant portrait of European youth entering a new century, and their questioning, irreverent explorations of art, philosophy and life itself in a world of seemingly limitless possibilities, spoke eloquently to a generation who assumed that they had invented the concept of restless, unfettered youth, free of hypocrisy and social convention. What is remarkable is the way Jules and Jim’s story arc so eerily and accurately reflects the breaking apart and dissolution of those ideals: Truffaut, in 1962 (three years before the ‘Summer of Love’ and seven before Altamont) could have scarcely anticipated the direction the decade would take, and yet, as the 60’s took on an increasingly somber and reflective tone, Jules and Jim became more meaningful than ever to its audience. In its early passages, the controlled anarchy of Raoul Coutard’s airy, spontaneous black and white cinematography, the exhilarating music of Georges Delerue and Boris Bassiak, (whose song Le Tourbillion, sung late in the film by Bassiak and Moreau, embodied, for many fans, the mood and meaning of Jules and Jim), and the electric chemistry between Werner, Serre and Moreau, all recall the adventurous
Boris Bassiak and George Delerue's Le Tourbillion, sung by Catherine, and accompanied by her occasional sneak-away squeeze Albert (Bassiak) became a hit, and is firmly planted in the hearts of Jules and Jim's world-wide legion of fans...
high spirits of many of the era’s ‘youth movies’: the film’s interludes of the happy trio at play (the soaring aerial shots of their countryside escapades and the handheld camera that follows them at play in the Paris streets, with Catherine in male drag) are echoed in as disparate places as the boisterous energy of Richard Lester’s gloriously Black-and-White A Hard Day’s Night and the playful camaraderie of the protagonists of Bonnie and Clyde. Just as Jules and Catherine are married WWI breaks out, and the advent of the war brings to Jules, Jim and Catherine an enforced confrontation with adulthood, just as the Vietnam war wrenched its carefree generation into an increasingly traumatic reality from which its ideals would not emerge unscathed. And, as Catherine careens dangerously between her desire to be an unfettered free-spirit (she admires Ibsen’s Nora for “inventing her own life moment to moment”) and her very human longing for permanence, lasting love and fulfillment, she mirrors the doubts and conflicts that were soon to settle over Jules and Jim’s adoring baby boomer audience.

Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim is one of the most earnest and poignant portraits of youthful exploration, audacious exuberance and total surrender to love in film history; unselfconsciously brimming over with both the joy of love, and the New Wave’s love of the joy of filmmaking, and continues to enchant new audiences with its achingly bittersweet beauty and fizzy, buoyant celebration of the process, no matter how perilous, of loving, creating, and of living life, ‘at full tilt’.
Marie Dubois has only one major scene in Jules and Jim, but it's unforgettable... The famous and oft-parodied 'Steam Engine'...

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