Thursday, December 8, 2016

Jules and Jim - A Beautiful Love Triangle!

Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim is everything that a film should be: dynamic characters portrayed by enigmatic actors, cinematography that disarms the audience, lighting that places us immediately within the nexus of each scene, music that elevates, and dialogue that is both brave and funny.  Jules and Jim is all of these things but also wealthier and mightier than the sum of it's parts. There is an intangible something that I was trying to catch upon first viewing. Upon repeated viewings I realized there was no way to catch it; I had to let it wash over me - I had to simply experience it.

Catherine doing her best male impersonation in a race with Jules and Jim.
Released in 1962, this illusive cinematic journey begins in Paris before WWI and spans twenty-five years, telling the story of two very different friends. Jules (Oskar Werner) is a passive Austrian who has no luck with women. Jim (Henri Serre) is an outgoing French man who has luck with all women. The two are content in their roles until they meet Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). She is beautiful, capricious, malcontent, vindictive, and above all - absolutely charming. Both men fall under her spell, but instead of competing, the three of them form a truly unique bond. Director Truffaut called it "a triangle of pure love."

The captivating Jeanne Moreau as Catherine

Director Francois Truffaut (to the left) with Raoul Coutard (cinematographer) and Claude Beausoleil (camera operator)

A word or two about the cinematic language of Truffaut:

 A narrator  continually informs us in quick spars sentences of the inner workings at play in Jules and Jim. Truffaut accompanies the narration with quick cut montages and a camera that is always in motion. Locations change as fast as the dynamic between the three characters, who are in a constant state of flux and upheaval.

 Below is an example of Truffaut's ability to make a small scene monumental. Catherine dresses as a boy and calls herself Thomas while challenging Jules and Jim to a race on a bridge. 

In the tradition of The French New Wave, spontaneity was chosen instead of choreographed shots or rehearsed acting. While a script was adhered to, the actions of the actors were not blocked out. Truffaut instead allowed the actors to choose their choreography in the moment and then followed their lead with the camera. Adding to this, Truffaut used only real locations and natural lighting.  All of which created an immediacy and sense of natural ease, complimenting the fast paced story.
Henri Serre (Jim), Oskar Werener (Jules), Jeanne Moreau (Catherine)

Jules and Jim began as a debut novel by Henri-Pierre Roche written when he was seventy-four. Truffaut was a twenty-three year old film critic when he fell in love with it. The beauty of youth and experience co-mingle so flawlessly, there has not been another film like it since. This is a box of magic that once opened, cannot be put down. 


Roger Ebert's Review

 New York Sun review by Steve Dollar


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