Jules et Jim (1962)
This film by François Truffaut is one of my favourite New Wave films. The script is based on the semi-autobiography of Henri-Pierre Roché, written in 1953. He wrote about his relationship with writer Franz Hessel and his wife, Helen Grund. In the film, Jim is also writing a novel about his friendship with Jules and their mutual love for Catherine.
The soundtrack was composed by Georges Delerue and is considered to be one of the best soundtracks of all times. His music is very moving and beautiful. At a certain moment in the film, Jeanne Moreau sings a song named “Le Tourbillon” (the whirlwind) about a femme fatale. This song, which is actually about Catherine and her men, was a great hit
This movie has a typical Nouvelle Vague style: there are a lot of freeze frames, newsreel footages, wipes, masks, a voice over, dolly shots, documentary style (with hand held camera), etc.
The story centers around Jules, Jim and Catherine. Jules and Jim are best friends and both interested in writing, art and a bohemian life style. Albert, a friend of Jim and Jules shows them a slide show with all kinds of statues, but one statue in particular fascinates them. This statue has beautiful lips and a serene smile. After going out and meeting several young women, they become acquainted with Catherine, who is the doppelganger of the statue they adore. Catherine is a free spirit and has an alternative view on love. Jules starts a relationship with her and the three friends have a blast. But Catherine isn’t faithful and although she has a beautiful daughter with Jules and they form a perfect little family, she gets involved with Albert and Jim, Jules’ friends, as well. The idyllic life they lead is disturbed by Catherine’s caprices and affairs. The friendship between Jules and Jim suffers from this love triangle and it turns out that the love between the two men and Catherine isn’t as great as the friendship between our two leading men. I will not give away the ending, nor the details of this unusual love affair because I never like to know everything up front when I watch a movie.
CATHERINE: She is portrayed by Jeanne Moreau, an attractive woman, though not a classical beauty. Also in Jules and Jim she is considered to be attractive and have a great influence on men, while she doesn’t have the features that are usually considered to be beautiful. Catherine is too free spirited and capricious to settle down with one man. She needs the attention of all men in her environment and is not able to truly love one of them. She can be extremely sweet and cheerful, but also cold hearted and depressed. Somewhere in the beginning of the movie Jules, Jim and Catherine go to see A doll’s house by Ibsen and Catherine claims to understand why Nora is able to leave her husband and children. This already forecasts her own sudden disappearances. There are also hints that she has been cheated on by former lovers, or at least treated badly by them. This might have caused her unusual view on love and her inability to love absolutely.
JULES: He is portrayed by Oskar Werner. Jules is a shy and sweet Austrian boy who befriends Jim who takes him on adventures and introduces him to women. He is a writer, like Jim, and interested in nature and animals. Despite all the things Catherine does to him (leave him with their daughter, cheat on him openly, deny their love, …) he stays with her and loves her absolutely. He can’t be free as long as Catherine is alive. He prefers life on the country over city life. He is happy in the countryside, where he can play with his daughter, go out for walks, and investigate insects. Catherine and Jim on the other hand prefer city life. They are more extrovert and need more social contact. I always root for Jules because his Buddhistic characteristics and the way he plays with his daughter show that he truly is a good person, but I also dislike the fact that he doesn’t fight harder for what he wants (though I know that that wouldn’t agree with his zen mentality).
JIM: The dandy Jim (pronounced as Djim) is portrayed by Henri Serre. He is the more sociable of the two friends and is busy writing a novel about their friendship. Although Jim and Jules aren’t completely the same, they learn to accept each other’s weaknesses and love each other absolutely. Besides his relationship with Catherine, Jim is also engaged to Gilberte. She is extremely jealous of Catherine and I feel for her because all she can do is wait until Catherine has had enough of Jim.
Costumes and sets
The clothes Catherine wears, and the way she wears her hair are so beautiful. The scene in which she and her daughter, Sabine, have the same updo is so cute. In the beginning of the movie, Catherine is still dressed in pre-war clothes, but during and after the war her clothing style is more casual and she wears her hair down more often. I really like this evolution of her style and I especially like the look of the big sweater on top of a cute dress.
All the houses in the movie are so great. I have added some stills or pictures I found online of the locations. The big white house by the sea is my favourite, and the scene where Jules, Jim and Catherine all stand in one window-frame and ask each other how they’re all doing is beautifully structured. Jules’ love of the country side delivers some great scenes: the threesome riding their bikes, the threesome at the seaside, the adults frolicking around like children in nature, the adults playing with Sabine, the mist in the Black Forest, the mill in the woods where they live at the end of the movie, etc. Nature gives this story an extra romantic touch through its sublime landscapes which I’m always a fan of.
In short, I recommend this film to anyone who loves the typical French Nouvelle Vague films, femme fatales, great friendships, beautiful landscapes, French fashion, cute children, bohemians, passionate kisses, drama, comedy, etc.