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.
A charming film which consists mainly of an extended duologue. Two people who may or may not be in love spend a few days and nights together. The camera seems to observe passively as their relationship develops. However littered throughout this carefree romance are shots of a classic cops and robbers chase. The drama and the sweetness sit together as oddly as these two bedfellows.
The first half of the film serves as a seduction scene. Impossibly a man who lies and steals for a living has found a woman even more guarded than he is. They discuss little insignificancies for hours with her rebuffing him at every turn. She is aloof, coquettish and absolutely maddening for a man with a private agenda. There is no sentimentality in Godard’s camera, it shows us a situation without drawing back or making light of it. All that you see simply is. Godard edits out the silences, replacing them with bold jump cuts as the repartee continues. Truffaut’s script is razor sharp despite it’s deliberate oblique quality. The pertinent details are never quite addressed but are made perfectly clear in these actions of these charmingly capricious characters. If it wasn’t treated so plainly and naively this would be a hyperbolic tragedy. However, with a light jazz accompaniment and a spring in its step the action blithely unfolds, barely leaving a blip in the fabric of society.
In a film about making a film Francois Truffaut places himself in front of and behind the camera to express the potent mix of fantasy and reality which leaks its way onto a film set. The film tells the story of a production plagued by mishaps, crises, deaths and rewrites. The director, played by Truffaut, wishes to create a work of art and literally dreams of great cinema. His sporadic dream sequences showing him as a young child picking up scraps from directors previous to and greater than himself. One can almost imagine that the whole film was born out of a failed production which could only be saved through comedy.
While this has the potential to be a tragedy, or at least a bath of self-pity for any struggling director to wallow in, it is in fact more like a farce. The glamour of cinema is stripped back to reveal the prosaic elements, a candle with a hidden light, a balcony with no house attatched, a million money saving trompe l’oeils. You can’t help but wonder why this industry thrives, what is the human fascination with seeing people on a screen when we know of the fallacy? It’s like a huge in-joke but no one remembers how it started. Truffaut draws attention to these ideas repeatedly, sometimes showing us shots from the imaginary movie they are creating and sometimes panning back so we can see the boom mics and cue cards. One actress has suffered so greatly from this detachment of reality that she cannot cope with the make-up girl being an extra. About halfway through a woman screams directly at camera that she “hates your cinema”. The fourth wall is broken and this simple, make-up shunning woman is left asking the audience why they are even watching.
At times the film descends into montage, these sequences are self-mocking. They are framed with enthusiastic, hopeful music and everyone seems to be thoroughly enjoying themselves making a jolly good movie. This parodies everything the film itself has just shown us, the arguments, the upsets and the disasters, which eventually fade away into a generally good impression. The same actress who regularly breaks down on set laments the passing of the shooting. The whole proceedings seem ridiculous to the observer and will seem ridiculous even to those involved, as they re-observe with the passing of time. The whole thing ridicules the goal of recording a story when the real story is happening around you. In its way the film expands the existentialist ideals, everything you ever see is effectively a film set with each person watching life go by and waiting around for their moments. It is not the exact events that set any one story apart but rather the attitude with which they are approached. If you cannot laugh at your own estrangement from reality no one else will. The film wraps itself up by presenting this ultimate irony to the audience with spectacular wit and style.