François Truffant received critical acclaim with “The 400 Blows” (Les Quatre cents coups) in 1959 and it was his first feature film. The film was autobiographical while Jules and Jim, his third is an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roché. With the first film he had made himself as the prime exponent of New Wave that was in vogue. The second film focused on two of the French New Wave’s favorite elements, American film noir and themselves while Jules et Jim defined New Wave as truly rooted to the French, meaning doing away with cinematic traditions of French cinema.
Style of this film is the substance. There isn’t much of a plot anyway. Set between 1912 and 1933, the film revolves around two friends Jules and Jim falling in love with the same woman.
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. It opens with carousel music and a breathless narration into which newsreel footage to recreate WWI and the next (Nazi book burning) is an element typical of New Wave. Another is acute compression of certain narrative from the rest since the focus is on what follows as in the Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons. Remember the Welles’ more famous film Citizen Kane? It isn’t hard to see from where the cinematic idiom of French New Wave has drawn. A good representative of the literary and cinematic allusions to America,- and Hollywood will be found in Godard’s Breathless. I found Truffaut more satisfying than other practitioners since he had full control over his material and technique. ‘His camera is nimble, its movement so fluid that we sense a challenge to the traditional Hollywood grammar of establishing shot, closeup, reaction shot and so on; “Jules and Jim” impatiently strains toward the hand-held style. The narrator also hurries things along, telling us what there is no time to show us. 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. His use of brief, almost unnoticeable freeze-frames treats some of the moments as snapshots, which also belong to the past.’(Roger Ebert)
It is 1912. The film essays the friendship of two kindred souls. Jules (Oskar Werner) is a writer from Austria who strikes up a friendship with the more extroverted Jim (Henri Serre). They share an interest in the world of the arts and the Bohemian lifestyle. “They taught each other their languages; they translated poetry.”They are both intrigued by a statue with enigmatic smile and they find Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) who is as enigmatic as that statue. Art and life told in cinematic language and it neatly explains the crux of the film: dilemma of two falling in love with the same woman. Unfortunately life is much more complicated than our responses to a work of art. The rest of the film is taken up with dealing this dilemma into which war is an intrusion as a child borne out of a loveless marriage is a complication. Equally complicated is the failure to conceive a ‘love child.’ It could write finis to love that one is capable of. In all Truffaut’s movies we see him warily examining marriage and the vacuous social traditions this entails. Another of his curious ambivalence regarding women (Catherine for example) and it perhaps reflects his own childhood. Perhaps it is relevant at this point to mention that the original of Catherine was still alive when the film was released. Her real name was Helen Hessel, so writes Daria Galateria in the Bright Lights Film Journal) she attended the premiere incognito and then confessed, “I am the girl who leaped into the Seine out of spite”. This shot is revealing as to the key to the mind of a woman brilliantly portrayed Jeanne Moreau. Jules and Jim learned to give friendship their best and Catherine in middle was life as we all live in this imperfect world and yet we warm our hands by the pyre lit by life’s capricious gifts. Their friendship was doomed to fail. I shall end this overview by quoting Galateria once again. She quotes Truffaut as having said: “I begin a film believing it will be amusing — and along the way I notice that only sadness can save it.”
The evocative musical score is by Georges Delerue. One song, “Le Tourbillon” (The Whirlwind), summed up the turbulence of the lives of the three main characters, becoming a popular hit.
* Quentin Tarantino references this work in his film Pulp Fiction in the line “Don’t fucking Jimmy me, Jules”.
* Two sequences from the film appear briefly in a cinema scene in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie.
* It is also heavily referenced in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky where: a clip featuring Jeanne Moreau appears during the finale montage; a poster for the film is displayed in the main character’s bedroom; two best friends fall in love for the same woman – who leaves the insecure one for the passionate one – causing friction between them; a climatic scene involves a woman driving her car off a bridge with her lover.
* The song “When the Lights Go Out All Over Europe” by The Divine Comedy references Jules and Jim in the lines ‘Jeanne can’t choose between the two / ‘Cos Jules is hip and Jim is cool / And so they live together’.
* The song “Speedboat” by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions refers to the film in the lines “Jules said to Jim, ‘Why don’t we jump in,/ While the water’s clean and we are still friends?’”
* In the short story, “Las dos Elenas,” by Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, one of the Elenas watches Jules et Jim and it influences her perspective on life and relationships.
* The original music video for the popular song “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer pays tribute to the film and recreates many of the classic scenes.
* In Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Steve Zissou and Ned Plimpton are standing outside Jane Winslett-Richardson’s cabin door. Steve says “Not this one, Klaus”, a little homage to the character of Jules in the Truffaut film.
* In the “Bastille” episode, from the film Paris, je t’aime (2006), the wife (Miranda Richardson) uses to whistle “Le Tourbillon”.
* Pete Townshend’s album Empty Glass includes a song entitled “Jools and Jim”.
* In the opening chapter of the novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1989) by Michael Chabon, the narrator observes a fight between two men over a woman. After the woman chooses one of the men, named Larry, the narrator walks off. Another man watching the fight asks the narrator, “Which way were you going, anyway, before you ran into Jules and Jim back there?” The narrator replies “Jules and Larry”.
Directed by François Truffaut
Produced by Marcel Berbert
Written by Henri-Pierre Roché
Music by Boris Bassiak
Cinematography Raoul Coutard
Release date(s) January 23, 1962 (French release)
Running time 105 min.
We played with life and lost.
Catherine: Watch us well, Jules!
Catherine: You said, “I love you,” I said, “Wait.” I was going to say, “Take me,” you said, “Go away.”
Jim: Either it’s raining, or I’m dreaming.
Catherine: Maybe it’s both.
Jules: But not this one, Jim. Okay?
Jim: What is it?
Catherine: Sulfuric acid, for the eyes of men who tell lies.
Récitant: Catherine’s plunge into the river so astonished Jim that he drew it the next day, though he didn’t usually draw. Admiration for Catherine welled up in him and he sent her a kiss in his mind.
Jules: She’s more optimistic than you where time’s concerned. She was at the hairdresser’s and and arrived at 8:00 to dine with you.
Jim: If I’d known she might still come, I’d have waited til midnight.
# In Jean-Luc Godard’s picture Une femme est une femme (1961), Jeanne Moreau appears as herself. This becomes obvious because Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character, while meeting her at a café, asks her: “How is ‘Jules And Jim’ coming?” Une femme est une femme (1961) was released in 1961, while Jules et Jim (1962) in 1962, but the reference exists because François Truffaut and Godard were friends at the time, and often collaborated in each others movies.
# When Jim first visits Jules’ home in Austria, Catherine shows him a picture of Jules costumed as Mozart. Oskar Werner, the actor who plays Jules, also portrayed Mozart in an earlier film.
Two English Girls (1971, François Truffaut)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988, Philip Kaufman)
Lovin’ Molly (1974, Sidney Lumet)
Love Etc. (1996, Marion Vernoux)
Toutes les Nuits (2001, Eugène Green)
Bandits (2001, Barry Levinson)
The Dreamers (2003, Bernardo Bertolucci)
My Night at Maud’s (1969, Eric Rohmer)
Bande à Part (1964, Jean-Luc Godard)
Cesar & Rosalie (1972, Claude Sautet)
Movies with the Same Personnel
Two English Girls (1971, François Truffaut)
The Man Who Loved Women (1977, François Truffaut)
Bed and Board (1970, François Truffaut)
Shoot the Piano Player (1960, François Truffaut)
The Wild Child (1970, François Truffaut)
The Woman Next Door (1981, François Truffaut)
Love on the Run (1979, François Truffaut)
Small Change (1976, François Truffaut)
Other Related Movies
is featured in: Amélie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
is related to: Love Me If You Dare (2003, Yann Samuell)
The Fortune (1975, Mike Nichols)
has been remade as: Willie and Phil (1980, Paul Mazursky)
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