not only my favorite Francois Truffaut film, but it’s also my favorite French
New Wave picture. While Godard’s Breathless
is often cited as the quintessential French New Wave movie—and it is indeed
a hallmark of the movement—for me it’s Jules
and Jim that fully represents that important development in cinema history.
It contains all the recognizable stylistic and thematic qualities that those
French upstarts brought to their films (what?
French critics becoming filmmakers?
How dare they!), but it’s also a darned good story with wonderful
performances by its three leads. And while the movie ends on a bittersweet,
somewhat tragic note, Jules and Jim is
really a feel-good movie because of the way Truffaut chose to tell the tale.
The director has never shied away from pathos and sentimentality—something the
filmmaker was very good at—but in Jules
and Jim he keeps it from being maudlin or syrupy by infusing the picture
with whimsy. Perhaps the best way to describe Jules and Jim is that it’s a pure delight, a quirky joy from start
on a 1953 semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roché,
who fictionalized the menage a trois relationship
between him, his best friend, and his best friend’s wife (the true story of
which is recounted in the fascinating 1985 documentary, The Key to “Jules and Jim,” included as an extra). The source
material was perfect fodder for Truffaut, who was particularly adept at
exploring the mysterious topics of flawed love and romance (he would make
another menage a trois picture a
decade later entitled Two English Girls,
a sort-of flipside of Jules and Jim).
The storyline is relatively straight-forward: Jules (Oskar Werner), an
Austrian, and Jim (Henri Serre), a Frenchman, become bosom buddies in France in
the years before the First World War. They both fall in love with the same
bohemian and decidedly “free” woman, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau, in a
career-defining performance). The war intervenes and separates the two friends,
for they must fight on opposite sides of the conflict. But they make it out
alive and reconnect during peacetime—and Catherine is still very much a part of
their lives. Catherine had married Jules before the war, but now, even though
she lives with Jules and their young daughter, Catherine begins a renewed
affair with Jim—in the same house. Jules’ friendship with Jim prevents him from
objecting, although it is clear that the pain is there, buried, inside both
men. Needless to say, the triangle ends badly; but, ironically, it’s presented
as if the situation is the most natural thing in the world.
Jules and Jim was released in
1962 to international critical acclaim and established Truffaut as one of
France’s great directors. He made many wonderful pictures during his brief
career (which was tragically cut short by a brain tumor), including the
magnificent Oscar-winner, Day for Night,
but none would reach the heights achieved by Jules and Jim. Its influence on future filmmakers is
undeniable—Martin Scorsese once claimed that GoodFellas was directed in the same style as Jules and Jim, with disjointed narrative, rapid-fire cutting, and
voice-over narration. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie
is practically a love letter to the French New Wave, especially the frivolous,
whimsical nature that was present in Jules
and Jim. The recent Frances Ha,by Noah Baumbauch, also owes a lot to
Truffaut’s masterpiece, especially to the significantly fanciful score by
has seen fit to re-issue their earlier DVD release as a Blu-ray, and the
results are astounding. The new 2K digital restoration is gorgeous. Beyond
that, the extras are exactly the same as the previous DVD edition, which includes
two separate audio commentaries (one by Jeanne Moreau herself), several video
interviews with Truffaut from different periods of his career, the
previously-mentioned documentary on the true story behind the film, video
interviews with cinematographer Raoul Coutard and co-writer Jean Grualt, and
much more. This new release is dual-format—you get the Blu-ray and two DVD
disks, all containing the same material.
you already own the previous release, the question for you is whether or not
you want to experience Jules and Jim in
the best possible visual and aural presentation. For me, the answer to that is
a no-brainer. Jules and Jim is
Francois Truffaut’s gift to cinema lovers.