(Jules and Jim)
Director: François Truffaut
Production: Films du Carosse and SEDIF; 1962; black and white, 35mm, Franscope; running time: 105 minutes. Released 23 January 1962, Paris. Filmed 1963 Alsace, Paris, and Venice.
Producer: Marcel Berbert; screenplay: François Truffaut and Jean Gruault, from the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché; photography: Raoul Coutard; editor: Claudine Bouche; sound: Témoin; music: Georges Delerue, song "Le Tourbillon" by Bassiak; costume designer: Fred Capel.
Cast: Jeanne Moreau ( Katherine ); Oscar Werner ( Jules ); Henri Serre ( Jim ); Vanna Urbino ( Gilberte ); Boris Bassiak ( Albert ); Sabine Haudepin ( Sabine ); Marie Dubois ( Thérèse ); Jean-Louis Richard ( 1st Customer in café ); Michel Varesano ( 2nd Customer in café ); Pierre Fabre ( Drunkard in the café ); Danielle Bassiak ( Albert's friend ); Bernard Largemains ( Merlin ); Elen Bober ( Mathilde ); Michel Subor ( Narrator ).
Truffaut, François, and Jean Gruault, Jules et Jim , in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1962; as Jules and Jim , New York, 1968.
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Marcorelles, L., "Interview with François Truffaut," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1961–62.
Truffaut, François, in Films and Filming (London), no. 10, 1962.
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* * *
Jules and Jim is among the masterpieces of the French New Wave and may be considered the high achievement of that movement. The first films of Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol & Co. had astonished the world with a vitality that seemed evanescent, while too many of the films after 1962 are generally thought to be decadent and cloying in their search for novel effects. But with Jules and Jim we have a film that is at once vital, astonishing, and mature. Its solidity as well as its richness have kept it from fading even under the intense light of scholarship and criticism to which it has been continually subject.
In some respects it is not a characteristic New Wave film, for it chronicles 30 years in the lives of its characters, opening brightly in La Belle Epoche and closing in the grim era of the Depression and the rise of Hitler. Whereas most New Wave films sought to express the rhythms of their own epoch with complete freshness, Truffaut in this film retreated to the past. But in its own way Jules and Jim is faithful to the existentialist ethic and aesthetic of the New Wave period, for no film strives more obviously for authenticity in its quest to tap the feelings of a liberated generation whose morality must be achieved on the run.
Oddly, it was through the intermediary of a 75-year-old sensibility, that of novelist Henri-Pierre Roché, that Truffaut was able to shape this past into a pure picture of his own generation. When he read the novel upon its publication in 1955, he immediately contacted Roché, initiating a correspondence that continued until the latter's death which occurred just before the film went into production. Of course in 1955 Truffaut was but a minor critic who could only dream of the film this novel might become. Nevertheless, even at that time he mentioned it as an example of the kind of living, breathing story he claimed was missing from the moribund "Cinema of Quality" which dominated the 1950s in France.
What was it that gave this novel its vigor, and how did Truffaut succeed in letting its spirit animate his film when at length he was able to make it? One must begin with the plethora of incidents spilling out of the novel's first pages. While Truffaut has drastically reduced their number and, more certainly, the number of characters he introduces, both works dizzy their audience. La Belle Epoche is carefree and exciting as lived through Jules and Jim. It becomes more dangerous and even more exciting once they attach themselves to Katherine.
The bubbling first third of the film is a textbook in photographic and editing effects (stop frame, swish pans, stock footage, jump cuts). Only the narrator who ties together these fragments hints wistfully at the trouble to come. The film makes its inevitable descent just as Katherine accepts Jules' marriage proposal. For his dream has been attained on the eve of the outbreak of the Great War, a war so graphically documented that it brutalizes the earlier sentiments of the film, tossing its characters off their merry-go-round where they land, still and stunned. This second movement shows the reality of living with Katherine, the dream they had so hectically pursued. Her fickleness makes them prisoners of their own desires, and their imaginations, still rich with inventiveness, are tethered to one who is neither beautiful nor intelligent but for whom they would surrender their lives because she is pure woman (spontaneous, tender, cruel). The conclusion is more sombre still, as each character achieves a compensating wisdom, a sense of self. Katherine is both fire and water, the vitriol she pours down the sink. She chooses water for death, cremation for burial. Jim is romantic, a dashing Parisian novelist who travels after the war in search of the 20th century. Comfortable with his shifting feelings, he runs from Gilberte to Katherine whenever she calls him. Finally there is Jules who treasures their lives to the full. A Buddhist in sensibility, he possesses Katherine through patience. An entomologist, he would write of the loves that insects aspire to. Nothing is too small for his attention. His resignation and nostalgia place him nearest the narrator, as he looks back at a time when life was full of freedom and promise.
If the film's plot is a progressive decline, its images set off these oppositions at every turn. The film's first enthusiasts pointed to the interplay of circles and triangles. The lovers directly illustrate the triangle they are living as they welcome the morning from three separate windows at the seashore. The sharp angular pans of the camera keep us wondering in which direction love must flow. But it is the spinning circularity of the cinemascope most viewers recall, a circularity repeated in the cafe tables, the tadpoles swimming round their bowl, in Katherine's cosmology which holds the world to be an inverted bowl. Bicycles are in circles; Sabine rolls over and over to the music which culminates in Katherine's prophetic song, her "Rondo of love."
These two master graphic forms come together, Roger Greenspun observed, in the hourglass measuring out the final days of La Belle Epoche and the preciousness of the briefest instants of life. Art is another such measure, and Jules and Jim is a catalogue of the arts. Scattered through its texture are references to old films, to photography and slideshows, to statues, paintings, novels, the theater, and music. This is a story about the drive to raise life to art and art to eternity. In the abundance of its episodes, symbols, citations, and tales, and in its mixture of excitement and resignation, Jules and Jim never lets up in its own drive to give meaning to and express the vitality of life. This was the ambition of the New Wave, and this film is its apotheosis.