Jules and Jim (1962)

4.5/5

Jules et Jim

France; François Truffaut

 

All Audiences

 

 

Jim (Henri Sarre) and Jules (Oscar Werner) are best friends. Jules loves Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) and Catherine loves Jules. Jim loves Catherine and Catherine loves Jim.

 

If love is a game, there are naturally winners and losers. If love is a hunt, there are hunters and victims. In Jules and Jim there are no winners, no hunters. Only losers, only victims. It is the tragic story of love not so much unrequited as unfulfilling. At some point, a character states bitterly: “You wanted to invent love… No, we must look at thing frankly. We failed, we missed everything.” It strikes at the film heart - the rude awakening of these naive Flower Children who dream of changing the world, transmogrifying it in their own carefree image, and build up from the ruins something new, better. Entrapped in this enslaving love triangle are Jules, the mild fair-haired Austrian, Jim, the dashing Frenchman, and Catherine, their beautiful yet opaque mistress. They are all playful, gleeful and avid for life, love and pleasure, yet playing God was a game they never truly understood.

 

While the narrative voice-over delves profusely into the men’s thoughts and emotions, Catherine remains surrounded by mystery. She’s a whirling dervish of energy and liveliness, an accident about to happen. Her appetite for life and love is heightened to such extremes it boils over into a morbid weariness. “Between grief and nothing I will take nothing. Grief is a compromise”: as Godard’s Michel Poiccard put it, there is no golden mean between ecstasy and self-destruction for such people. Life is a winner-takes-all game. She won't resign herself to outliving the implosion of her sweet Fool's Paradise. Ironically, only Catherine had ever expected their “arrangement” to bring happiness to anyone: for the two men, it’s a sacrifice, a compromise; love sometimes has a bitter aftertaste and it’s hard to swallow, but our heroes are ready to bear it.

 

Even more than in The 400 Blows, his first feature, Truffaut makes abundant use of his dazzling arsenal of cinematic tricks: nimble hand-held camera, brief freeze-frames, jump cuts and a narration. With a hint of playfulness and sad, absurd poetry, Jules et Jim is the pinnacle of the French New Wave, by turns wry, naïve, sweet and gently silly.

 

A film of wit and style, tragic and desperate at its heart but nonetheless of a lighthearted gaiety, Jules et Jim is first and foremost a poignant, lyrical and haunting portrayal of how painful and messy love can be.

 

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