When I think of French cinema, the first thing that pops into my head is the French New Wave of the late 1950s to the early 1960s. A big name to come out of the movement is François Truffaut, and his 1959 film The 400 Blows helped usher in the French New Wave, which has since influenced the way movies are made today. Truffaut is one of my favorite directors, French or otherwise, and I’ve enjoyed practically every film of his. One film that I always find myself coming back to is his 1962 film Jules and Jim, which chronicles the 25 year relationship between two friends and an alluring woman.
The film begins before World War I, and focuses on the deep admiration that Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) have for one another. The two friends lead carefree lives together, sharing and trading girlfriends without hurting the other’s feelings. One day they meet the beautiful and elusive Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), and both men are immediately taken by her. Though Jules and Catherine become romantically involved, the three of them become inseparable and spend nearly every waking moment together. But then World War I breaks out and separates the three friends for a few years as Jules and Jim report for duty on opposing sides. After the war, Jim moves in with Jules and Catherine, who are now married and have a young daughter. Hoping to recapture the magic and freedom of their early days together, the three adults learn that their postwar lives can’t accommodate their youthful ideals.
French romance is often seen as being easygoing, where relationships between people aren’t as clearly defined. And on the surface, Jules and Jim supports the idea of French people being more carefree when in love, as Catherine is eventually shared between the two friends. But as the story unfolds, the film shows that the love shared between Catherine, Jules, and Jim isn’t as blissful as outsiders would believe it to be. Additionally, Jules, an Austrian, has a much more romanticized view of love and life compared to the French characters. Jim and Catherine have more realistic expectations, and are more self-aware of themselves and other people. Where they diverge though is in Jim’s acceptance of how things are and Catherine’s dissatisfaction with it.
Though the film is titled Jules and Jim and initially follows them, it is Catherine that owns the film. She’s a rather complicated character, and if played by a lesser actress, Catherine could have been seen as a mad caricature of a woman, leaving the audience in disbelief as to why any man would stick around with her. But Jeanne Moreau adds depth to her, making Catherine a mesmerizing character that we willingly become absorbed with like Jules and Jim.
One of my favorite aspects of Jules and Jim is the music composed by Georges Delerue. His score is played through most of the film, sometimes overpowering a scene to match the rambunctious behavior of the characters, and other times simply underlining more somber scenes. The music swells in the characters’ happiness, such as when they’re bicycling through the countryside or exploring their surroundings. But despite how happy the three characters may be, the score has an ominous tone to it, highlighting how doomed their love affair is, and the music becomes even more haunting as the film unravels.
Jules and Jim is a film that celebrates love and all its complexities, studying the romantic relationships between Catherine and Jules, Jim and Catherine, and the enduring friendship between the title characters. And even though the film takes place in the early 20th century and was filmed more than 50 years ago, it still feels fresh today and is a great representation of what makes French cinema great.
I wrote this entry as a part of the France on Film Blogathon, where many bloggers are writing about French cinema and films that feature France as a backdrop. Click the banner below to read more fantastic entries!