Widely regarded as one of Truffaut’s seminal works Jules et Jim tells the story of a love triangle spanning almost an entire lifetime. Truffaut wastes no time about being revolutionary, the very first frames of the film assault the viewer with short cuts and a racing voiceover. A friendship between the titular characters is built up from nothing into a believable bond that the viewer invests in during about 30 seconds of film. Truffaut doesn’t allow the viewer to rest during the film, the soundtrack is forceful and loud, full of eerie discords. In some sequences the film seems to portray some heightened reality, freezing and zooming in on what is important as if seen through the minds of the characters.
Unfortunately it seems that there has been a historical opinion that this film shows three people who are in love and their joint relationship. I dispute that entirely. Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) are best friends who share everything, even going so far as courting the same woman until she makes a choice. This is proven early in the film when they come across the absent-minded Thérèse (Marie Dubois) who can’t even tell the two men apart yet ends up sleeping with one of them nonetheless. The character of Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) is yet another example of this airheaded female archetype that the two men share an appreciation of. Both Jules and Jim blithely superimpose their ideal woman onto Catherine. Their ideal is a fragment of statue they once saw, by mixing the ideas of the two Catherine is given a legendary importance, akin to an ancient culture. She is thoroughly undeserving of such a comparison but Catherine is all too happy to accept their attention. Over the decades that follow she will abuse them, hurt them and reject them in her desperate search for attention but they still follow her with idiotic loyalty. I suppose that their foibles are to be forgiven, after all, they are in love.
What is much more extraordinary is the robust nature of their friendship. Catherine tries with all her might to elicit jealousy from either one or to turn the two against each other, but it is all to no avail. She comes close, effectively exiling Jim from their life. It’s extraordinary that these men allow a woman to come between their friendship at all, a friendship that wasn’t damaged from fighting on opposite sides of a war. Truffaut’s omniscient narrator seems to mock these two who allow Catherine’s dramaticism to hold sway. While they puzzle over Catherine’s feelings the narration tells us directly of her selfishness. The camera hangs on her just as these men dote on her but we so not see her through lovers’ eyes and are left bemused more than enchanted. Yet beyond Catherine’s attention seeking and frivolous antics are two men who are so similar that they love the same woman. At the same time, they care so deeply about each other that they accept sharing her.
In the end this is what Truffaut has captured, Jules et Jim is aptly named, in the end it’s a friendship, not a ménage-a-trois. Jules and Jim remain friends with no ill will, even when confronted with a woman whose selfish behaviour challenges their bond.