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Jules and Jim (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on May 21, 2012

I’ve been waiting to revisit this film in the hopes that Criterion would upgrade it to a Blu-Ray release.  While I still hope that will happen eventually, I could wait no longer.  For one thing, it’s been so long since the last viewing (just a couple of weeks shy of 7 years) that it had faded a bit in memory, and I was no longer certain it was a top 100 film for me, much less a top 20.  So I was pleased to reconfirm my love for this movie, and ecstatic to once again bask in its glory.

It’s such an exquisitely crafted relationship.  Catherine may be selfish, impulsive, vengeful and ultimately psychotic, but the warning signs are all there.  She carries around a bottle of sulfuric acid to “throw into the eyes of men who tell lies” (if nothing else, she’s utterly honest about who she is).  After seeing a Strindberg play, she proclaims, “I like that girl.  She wants to be free.  She invents her own life every moment.”  When Jules replies, “The most important factor in any couple is the woman’s fidelity,” she leaps into the Seine as protest… not just at his remarks, but also because his conversation with Jim has drawn attention away from her.  And that is when Jim is drawn to her inescapable allure.  She’s a siren, “a force of nature that manifests itself in cataclysms.”  Thérèse (the charming Marie Dubois) has some kittenish sex appeal, but not the same irresistible draw.  Jim is barely interested in hearing about her numerous love affairs, which she proudly boasts of while he’s constantly distracted with greeting others in the café.  Is she too open, not mysterious enough?  Moments later he meets a girl who never speaks, perhaps she is too mysterious, or trying too hard.  But Catherine has the inexplicable quality that draws men in.  “Catherine is not especially beautiful or intelligent or sincere, but she’s a real woman.  It’s that woman that you and I love, that all men desire.”

Catherine represents a freedom that the two friends are ill-equipped to deal with, despite their attempts at sophistication.  And yet she herself doesn’t know what to do with it except act on her fanciful, hedonistic whims, searching with curiosity for the ideal version of love.  “I’m afraid she’ll never be happy on this earth.  She’s a vision for all, perhaps not meant for any one man alone.”  It’s a love triangle doomed to failure, yet Jules and Jim, like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, keep tilting at the windmill that is Catherine.  Jim being the stronger, more experienced of the two almost escapes… Jules is more willing to sacrifice anything to hold on to her, no matter what the circumstances.  But the impossibility of the situation eventually catches up with all of them, and in the end even Catherine is bound by the restrictions she longs to break free of: her ashes are not permitted to be scattered to the winds.  It almost sounds like a moral fable, a cautionary tale (produced at the dawn of the era of “free love”) about open relationships.  But Truffaut doesn’t judge, he sympathizes with all of them, even Catherine.  And most especially poor Jules, a wonderfully endearing performance by Oskar Werner.  “Not this one, Jim”… and naively, they both believe it at the time.

And of course, Jeanne Moreau is magnificent.  You can’t take your eyes off her.  When she sings “Le Tourbillon,” it’s one of the most captivating sequences I can think of.  I don’t mean to slight Henri Serre’s performance, either.  He’s terrific, just slightly less developed than the others.  And that marvelous, romantic score by Georges Delerue is a dream.  And I haven’t even touched on all the fantastic nouvelle vague flourishes in Truffaut’s direction… the freeze-frames, the wild camera moves, the unforgettable moments like the bridge race or the “steam engine” or burning the lies, the brilliant little surprises and lightness of touch.  It’s a beautiful, intoxicating film that is so rich with human understanding and lyricism.  An absolute joy and an absolute heartache.  Rating: Masterpiece


2 Responses to “Jules and Jim (rewatch)”

  1. […] and Jim1001plusMartin Teller’s Movie ReviewsLisa […]

  2. […] 107. Jules and Jim (1962, Francois Truffaut) […]

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