Jules and Jim, 1962
Dir: Francois Truffaut
December 2, 2009
Talk about a mixed bag. The description of this film, not to mention the praise and cinephile wank jobs that it induces, made me think that this was a shoe in for me. But there was just something about it that bugged me though, despite it being pretty good in the end. The whole whimsical tone, as Tuffaut said himself, seemed the only way to make this film, but I wanted scenes, which were mostly good, to be a bit more serious sometimes. At the end especially, which under different circumstances could have been perfect instead of just good, I wanted it to make you heartbroken instead of just leaving you with a wry smile on your face. I guess I've been watching too much WKW. This is good, and having now seen Truffaut's first three films, plus the awesome short film Antoine et Colette (1962), I'm positive that I dig him way more that Godard.
The course of the film follows two young men, Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre), as they live out their young adulthood's in Paris before World War 1, and then after as they progress into middle age. At first they spend time talking about art and dating girls, sometimes the same one. They then become enamored with the same woman, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), a free-spirit who spends time with both men as they go to a beach house and ramble around and swim and be silly. I enjoyed this part, along with the very beginning, the most. The whimsy of remembering something fond, like looking through an old photo album, works extermely well. Eventually Catherine marries Jules, who had gently warned Jim earlier, "Not this one, Jim." They both go off to war, on opposite sides (Jules is from Austria), and both have fears that they might kill each other. The stock war footage that was used was way too long, because you get the point.
Once the war is over, Jim goes to visit Jules, Catherine and their young daughter, who are living in Austria. It becomes apparent that the marriage is unhappy, and Catherine is still her old self, which apparently was always just a bitch who slept around. This is where the tone of the film stops working for me. Maybe Jules is looking back on this with some sense of endearment, but for me, it just stopped. For some reason, both men are still obsessed with her, and in in her restlessness, she begins to seduce Jim. When it becomes apparent that the marriage is over, Jules gives Jim his blessing to marry Catherine just so he can still be around her. So Jules is a lonely pussy, and Jim is falling for the same tricks. Everywhere on the web in reviews it talks about how cool they are, but they aren't. They get played like an old record. They live happily for a while, until Catherine has trouble getting pregnant. She goes sketchy again, and even tries to get back with Jules. Jim decides to head back to Paris.
Jim later sees Jules in Paris and learns that he and Catherine have moved back to France. From there, Catherine tries to win Jim back, but he has already decided to marry someone else. In a jealous rage, she pulls a gun on him, but he wrestles it way. The scene, with the music and composition, it really silly. As is the the next part, where, for some reason, Jim decides it's still a good idea to hang out with Catherine, and even get into a car with her. She drives it off a bridge with Jules watching. Jules is left to attend to ashes of his friend and of his lover/wife. You sort of see it coming as Catherine becomes more unstable as the film progresses, but it is still a shock when it happens.
I think this film might be why Americans think Europeans are so promiscuous, or are at least OK with it. My own repressed Puritan thought process kept coming up, "Why isn't Jules getting pissed about this?" But, as the title says, the film is about two friends who don't want to damage their relationship. As good as Moreau is as a crazy uber-bitch, she is somewhat superfluous to what I want, though basically essential to the story. I really didn't like the voice-over in this, and some of the techniques used were a little much (except the wipes...wipes are always OK with me), but then again, it's very New Wave. And then there were some name drops like in Godard, not as tedious, but still...You see the contradictions? In the end, the film is charming but flawed.