I consider François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim” to be one of the acclaimed French director’s great films. Released in 1962, this movie was one of the pivotal films in the French New Wave movement. In fact, you can’t watch it without sensing that it’s doing something bold and new in terms of filmmaking. There’s such an energy and a freshness in both the technique and in the storytelling itself. More importantly it’s a fantastic bit of cinema that would go on to influence many other films including “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Thelma and Louise”
I really appreciate the filmmakers of the French New Wave. They left an unmistakable mark on motion pictures, and their styles and creative approaches stand out in every film they made. It was a movement of experimentation and of bucking the trends of moviemaking that they believed had grown stale. “Jules and Jim” showcases this in every facet of the movie. It’s playfully neorealistic both in its use of the camera and in its strikingly grounded narrative. But aside from its influential methods and techniques, I found the story itself to be an utterly fascinating look at friendship and the bumpy road that sometimes accompanies it.
Jules and Jim first meet in Paris in 1912 and they immediately become friends. A narrator whisks us through their early days as young men in Paris and we watch as a foundation is laid for what should be a lifelong friendship. Jules (Oskar Werner) is a shy and reserved Austrian who can’t seem to find the right girl. Jim (Henri Serre) is just the opposite. He’s a confident and outgoing Frenchman whose never had a problem with the ladies. Both enjoy art and poetry and they spend a lot of time just sharing the good things from their cultures with each other. All of their earlier and happier days fly by in the opening few moments of the film but that’s okay. Truffaut is clearly setting the table for the more important part of the story that lies ahead. Yet while brief, these opening moments are beautifully woven together and Truffaut’s camera allows us to perfectly comprehend how close these two friends are.
Through a series of events the two cross paths with the free-spirited Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) who takes their lives down an unpredictable road. Eventually their jobs, a war, and other things separate Jules and Jim, but it’s Catherine who always serves as the new centerpiece to their friendship and it’s the complicated relationship between the three that keeps bringing them back together. Moreau is superb and her character is a difficult one to place. At times she’s energetic, vibrant, and full of life. But at other times she’s disconnected, neurotic, or in states of depression. The different dynamics she brings to her already complex relationships with Jules and Jim makes for incredible cinema.
The twists that the film applies to relationships and love are profound and almost feel experimental. Things take such unorthodox and unconventional turns and they seem destined to end badly. The most obvious casualty would seem to be the friendship between Jules and Jim yet no matter what trial or contention the two face, their loyalty to one another stands. I’m not sure how much sense all of this makes because I’m desperately trying to dance around the details and I refuse to spoil it for anyone. Let’s just say Truffaut takes Jules and Jim down some roads that few people could or would endure.
All of this is told through the lens of a true visionary. Truffaut and other influential groundbreakers like Godard and Chabrol were forging new paths into cinematic storytelling. You see it in every frame of “Jules and Jim”. Truffaut’s camera adheres to no common or popular formula of the time. It’s living and moving and so many times he captures the perfect angle or presents a new technique. It’s the picture of what the French New Wave was all about. It’s such a departure from the traditional moviemaking of the time both in terms of style and story.
“Jules and Jim” may not always be mentioned in the same breath with Truffaut’s own “The 400 Blows”, Godard’s “Breathless”, or Chabrol’s “Le Beau Serge” but it deserves to be considered as one of the French New Wave’s best. It’s a film that’s lively and spirited while at the same time being a bit disturbing and perplexing. There are layers to peel back and new things to discover. In other words “Jules and Jim” offers a wonderful experience both technically and emotionally. Moreover it’s a firm reminder of why we still go to the movies.
Excellent review! I’ve made this statement MANY times on my blog, but this is far and away my favorite film of all time. I have many personal reasons for feeling this way, and I highlight in my review (I’d love to hear your thoughts: http://afistfuloffilms.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-greatest-film-ever-made-greatest.html )
This is such a powerful film, disguised as something lighter. You nailed it. Spirited indeed, but with a serious punch!
Thanks for the comments and I definitely want to read more of your thoughts. Really glad to hear from someone who has not only seen the film but loves it as well. I normally don’t get much traffic when reviewing classic films but this one deserves to be talked about.
It really is a tremendous film and for a variety of reasons. There is so much happening in terms of filmmaking and storytelling techniques. And as we both have mentioned, it isn’t simply a story of two pals and a girl. There is so much more simmering under its surface all of which eventually boils over. Fabulous movie.
The character development that happens between the lines so-to-speak is incredible. I mean, whole backstories are created for these characters without anything being truly explored (from a literal standpoint) and yet we never feel like it’s barren. We can feel every ounce of development and we feel like we know these people…we’ve been there…we feel it through and through.
Jules’ loss, in the end, his fate so-to-speak, is haunting.
But as we both mentioned, the way that Truffaut handles it is so marvelous. The film is so light and frothy and fun and jovial…that’s the word…jovial. It just feels so lighthearted and fun and then it ends and all of the pieces start to fit into place and you realize that nothing is as simple as it seems. I think that was such a smart choice, because all of the tragic undertones are hard to pinpoint at a glance. Having been in a situation similar to the one portrayed, I can understand that fully. When you are IN it, it all feels so innocent and fun and then when it all ends and you’re devastated and you’re looking back at everything you realize how unhealthy and how NOT innocent it all was.
Honestly, this film is everything.
I’m so glad that you reviewed this, and that you saw through what so many disregard this as being. Can’t wait to hear what you think of my review 😀
Great words. I’ll be checking more of your thoughts on it this evening. It’s truly a movie worth being discussed. It’s a classic in every sense of the word, but over time it hasn’t lost any of its relevance or power.
I’m ashamed to say I don’t know anything about Mr François Truffaut or French New Wave. The premise sounds enchanting though, I should give it a shot. I really need to see Godard’s “Breathless” as well.
I think Truffaut is one of the greatest directors in movie history. His mastery with the camera and in storytelling inspired so many great filmmakers who followed.
The French New Wave provided some tremendous films. I would definitely recommend splurging. I know you would love it. This film, Breathless, The 400 Blows, etc, etc, etc. So many classics.
Thanks Ruth! 🙂