François Truffaut was one of the original New Wave directors. Like several of the others, he began is career as a film critic and took up filmmaking because of his rejection of the cinematic philosophy of the preceding generation of directors. His first feature, ‘The 400 Blows’ (1959), was one of the group of films that launched the New Wave…
Francois Truffaut’s masterpiece about a love triangle told through the years in the early 20th Century before, during, and after World War I starring Oskar Werner, Henri Serre, and Jeanne Moreau. Truffaut claimed his aim was to "make a subversive film of total sweetness"… in a film centered on a doomed fatalism I hope you think he has…
Jules and Jim opens with carousel music and a breathless narration that tells of two young men -- one extroverted Frenchman, Jim [portrayed by the brilliant Henry Serre whose performance is great for its restraint and earnestness] plus one shy, soft-spoken, resigned Austrian writer Jules [played by the subtle and charismatic Oskar Werner] -- who meet in Paris in 1912 and become lifelong friends…over their love of Bohemia – add a free-spirited woman [Moreau so full of spirit, energy, and charm] and a love triangle is born. They teach each other their respective languages and share everything: time together, women, views, and experiences.
Henri Serre was simply half of a comedy duo performing in cabarets. But it was his striking resemblance to the youthful Henri-Pierre Roché, which convinced the director that he had found “Jim.” To be faithful to the novel’s German speaking “Jules,” Truffaut chose Oskar Werner, already an established actor in his homeland. The use of a narrator became one of Truffaut's favorite techniques; it's a way of signaling us that the story is over and its ending known before it even begins. That girl is played by Jeanne Moreau in her first great performance, all the greater because of the art with which she presents her character Catherine's discontent.
Perhaps a lesser actress might have made Catherine mad or hysterical, but although madness and hysteria are uncoiling beneath the surface, Catherine depends mostly on unpredictability -- on a fundamental unwillingness to behave as expected. She shocks her friends as a way of testing them. Catherine is also one of those people who simply must be the center of attention.
This film, despite its title, is far more about Catherine than about either Jules or Jim or their friendship. Catherine epitomizes self-indulgent hedonism that was the hallmark of the bohemian culture and values that were instructing Europe, and especially Paris, prior to World War I. This is based on the little-known semi-biographical memoir-like novel by Henri-Pierre Roche [and adapted by Truffaut and Jean Gruault] and legend has it that Truffaut found the original novel, in a discount bin outside a used bookstore in 1955 and loved it – the rest is, as they say, history…
The narrative is unique for revealing the emotions and what happened during the time frames when dialogue isn't involved and such. The film also definitely adopts the time worn three act narrative structure to great effect. Truffaut also skillfully makes this film about the nature of memory. Instead of the usual narrative tactic in telling this story, Truffaut skips and leaps over chunks of the characters’ lives to focus only on what is most important to the story. This is how memory operates, registering what is most important as vivid memories while letting much of the rest slip into oblivion.
Truffaut's direction is evocative with the use of stock footage to convey the sense of the times and the different locations of Paris in the first act, Austria in the second, and the French suburbs near Paris in the third.
The style of the film came as a revelation in 1962. Truffaut skips lightly through the material, covering 25 years while never seeming to linger. Truffaut's camera is quick and nimble, its movement so fluid that we sense a challenge to the traditional Hollywood grammar of establishing shot, close-up, reaction shot and so on; "Jules and Jim" impatiently strains toward the hand-held style. His use of brief, almost unnoticeable freeze-frames treats some of the moments as snapshots, which also belong to the past. Using jump cuts, freeze frames, dissolve transitions, and other styles, the film moves very leisurely yet energetic to capture the film's sense of style and spirit
The music of George Delerue is absolutely brilliant from its upbeat, melodic score for the film’s early scenes to more sweeping, dramatic score with his eerie string arrangements. Delerue's rich score is a highlight in the many of the film’s technical highlights as it plays well to the film's emotional spirit.
Cinematographer Raoul Coutard does superb work with the film's black-and-white film stock as well as the use of hand-held cameras to capture the drama of what's happening.
It's a mesmerizing film from start to finish as Truffaut captures the scenes with great compositions to present the scenes as they're being shown. The result is a truly fascinating, stylistic, and evocative direction from the late Francois Truffaut.
The movie was released in 1962, at the time of the creative explosion of Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Resnais, Malle and the other New Wave directors, and it was Truffaut's third feature (after "The 400 Blows" in 1959 and "Shoot the Piano Player" in 1960). Although a case can be made for Godard's "Breathless" (1960) (based on a story by Truffaut), "Jules and Jim" was perhaps the most influential and arguably to some the best of those first astonishing films that broke with the past. There is joy in the filmmaking that feels fresh today and must have felt audacious at the time.
‘Jules et Jim’ has rightly become one of the classics of global cinema, not just of the French New Wave.