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Movie Reviews

Jules and Jim  

Jules and Jim (1962) is considered by many to be Francois Truffaut's supreme achievement. Me, I considered it to be a cold and detached piece of work, albeit one filled with the influences of a genius on duty. On first viewing, nevertheless, it didn`t quite rank as high as his equally celebrated The 400 Blows (1959).

Jules and Jim meet one day and become instant friends. One of the first things Jim does is to introduce Jules, a transplanted German, to a number of lady friends, none of who seem to appeal to the desperate Jules. For a while, an interesting character drops in by the name of Therese, a woman whose sports a confident ability to blow cigarette smoke from her mouth like a smokestack. But she falls by the wayside too, and is only a tease for who's really about to shake up their lives. This earth-shattering experience is in the form of Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), who the two friends meet, and who Jules begins a relationship with.

For us oh-so-proper English individuals, the eventual nature of these relationships might be shocking, even in a film made in 1962. Jim becomes infatuated with Catherine, and, years later, the two actually enter in to a relationship, even as Jules and her are already married with child. Yet, there is no friction between the three, as they all desperately want to keep their wonderful little trio. Yet this idealized, no-strings-attached lifestyle cannot work, especially since, while Jules believes in love so much he is willing to put up with Catherine`s indiscretions, Jim and her are working very hard to retain their fickle nature. Jim is still going out with an old girlfriend, and Catherine is intrigued by a folk singer just down the street. Neither of them can make a decision which can be both moral and pleasurable, and both of them must pay for it. Essentially, this is another one of those movies, like The Ice Storm, which make the conservative argument that "free love" isn`t really free at all, but, rather, a depraved and empty love, devoid of real feeling and commitment. What makes this message more chilling is that both Jim and Catherine almost seem to be willingly drifting to their moral defeat.

I really had a problem with the narration in the film. Sure, it's useful in setting up a potentially labourious beginning, but this nameless voice has the need to explain everything for the rest of the picture, when just plain visuals would've worked. The construction of the narration didn`t allow me to get involved in the story. It created a mood of detachment. I felt as if I were getting the highlights, with a voiceover doing the color (or is it the black-and-white?) commentary. Yet perhaps this is necessary. For one, it creates a flat, realistic tone, rather than the sordid melodrama it could have been. You are forced to stand at a distance and realize the tragedy in purely formal, instead of emotional, terms. It doesn`t ask you to become involved, just to understand.

Truffaut was a master of direction, and it shows here as well as in The 400 Blows. He uses many different techniques. For example, during a shot when Catherine explains that Jules and Jim make her happy, her contrived faces of joy, meant to amuse her friends, become an assorted grouping of freeze frames. Truffaut also uses a number of shots where the camera narrows its focus to a particular area, to make some sort of visual/narrative point. And he has a light, fanciful touch that the ultimate outcome of the movie can be a real shocker, which brings me to my earlier point. His light touch represents what the characters believe this situation deserves. But the truth is that tragedy is knocking at their door almost from the start, and when you look back you will realize everything happened according to the plan of fate. It`s a neat thing to be able to fool the audience like this, and to realize it wasn`t a cheat.

So the film itself is certainly not bad. The reason I may have not enjoyed the film so much that day was probably due to the purely biological: I was really tired that morning, and reading subtitles was not helpful for sleepy eyes. So perhaps I wasn`t as ready to discover the pleasures of this movie just yet. So I should qualify this rating: three stars, with a second viewing requirement.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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