Reviewed by Nigel Watson
Restored to its former glory this is a vivid reminder of one of the great films of the French ‘new wave’ cinema. Like many of the new wave directors, François Truffaut wrote for the Cahiers du Cinéma film magazine and was heavily influenced by the influx of Hollywood movies after the Second World War.
An important article by Truffaut in the January 1954 edition of Cahiers, he attacked the moribund French cinema for its unimaginative and oversimplified adaptations of literary works. Like his fellow new wave enthusiasts Truffaut praised the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Orson Welles and Howard Hawks as auteurs who put their own stamp on films.
Jules et Jim, released in 1962, was Truffaut’s third film after the highly successful The 400 Blows and Shoot the Piano Player. It exuberantly uses camera movement, editing and archive footage to emphasise the energetic lives of the three main protagonists: Austrian, Jules (Osker Werner), Jim (Henri Serre) and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) who become locked in a love triangle.
The impulsive Catherine is at the very centre of the story, indeed she is described as a ‘Queen Bee’ and Jules and Jim are compelled to do her bidding. Catherine oscillates between them and Albert (Serge Rezvani) and other lovers, whilst Gilberte is Jim’s long-suffering fiancée. Yes, it is complicated and their free-wheeling life-style in Paris is curtailed by the First World War where Jules and Jim are on the opposite sides of the conflict. They both fear they might shoot the other.
Having survived the dangers of the war, Catherine is dissatisfied with her marriage with Jules. She is at war with her own sensibilities and feelings, with the desire to have Jim’s baby. The ‘whirlpool’ of love, life and death drives the narrative to its tragic and shocking conclusion.
The film is a literary adaptation of Henri-Pierre Roché’s semi-autobiographical novel Jules et Jim, and Truffaut expertly shows how the new wave philosophy of filmmaking brings life to a literary source.
Jules et Jim screened at Plymouth Arts Cinema from 21-21 April.