Jules and Jim [DVD]
Director : François Truffaut
Screenplay : François Truffaut & Jean Gruault (based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1962
Stars : Jeanne Moreau (Catherine), Oscar Werner (Jules), Henri Serre (Jim), Vanna Urbino (Gilberte), Boris Bassiak (Albert), Anny Nelsen (Lucie), Sabine Haudepin (Sabine), Marie Dubois (Thérèse), Michel Subor (Narrator)
François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim opens like a narrative bum rush as jaunty, carnivalesque music plays against a rapid montage of images and on-screen credits before moving into a narrator’s rapid description of how the eponymous characters met and became friends. It feels rushed, almost disorienting at first, but it’s testament to Truffaut’s desire to get the background information out of the way and jump into the story proper. It also makes for an intriguing contrast with the film’s ending, which is slower and quieter, evoking a desire to rethink everything that came before.
Jules and Jim is the story of two friends, but the real catalyst in their life is a woman who forever changes how they view the world and each other. Jules (Oscar Werner) is a short, quiet, introspective Austrian, while Jim (Henri Serre) is a tall, lanky, outgoing Frenchman. They meet in Paris in 1912 and, because they share similar thoughts, ideas, and bohemian dreams (they both want to be writers), they become fast and inseparable friends.
Their life takes a decided turn when they meet Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), a genuine free spirit who is as desirable as she is uncatchable. Jules and Jim first see her face carved as a stone statue, and they are both enraptured by it, perhaps because they sense that only a piece of rock could forever capture someone so impenetrable. Jules ends up marrying Catherine, and although they have a daughter, their marriage is not happy one, mostly because it doesn’t suit someone of Catherine’ disposition; for her, marriage is a cage. Part of the blame might be placed at Jules’ feet, since he is so low-key and easy-going, but as we eventually see, nothing can please Catherine forever.
Catherine eventually takes Jim as a lover, and despite this marital infidelity, Jules and Jim remain friends. This seems like a strained narrative conceit -- after all, what could be more destructive to a friendship between two men than one cheating with the other’s wife? -- but it works within the story because Truffaut establishes a context of rule-breaking and wily freedom. However, because Tuffaut is not a wide-eyed, naïve idealist (despite being only 29 at the time he directed the film), the sense of “freedom” evinced by the characters is not an uncomplicated fantasy of dream fulfillment. Rather, it is an ideal to be desired, yet one that will always remain just out of reach, tantalizing yet oblique. The problem, as always, is that one person’s freedom always impinges on someone else’s, particularly in a love triangle as complicated as the one here.
Although the film is named for Jules and Jim, it is really about Catherine, and she is the character we remember most after the film ends. A defiant individual who bucks convention at every turn and refuses simple description (she is as adept at being a loving mother as she is at being an anarchic troublemaker), her most indelible line is when she says flatly to Jim, “I don’t want to be understood,” after he has listened to her explain her difficult situation with Jules. For Catherine, to be understood would be to lose her mystery and her sense of individuality; if a man could fully understand her, he would in some small way possess her, something she refuses to allow to happen. Even as she becomes Jules’ wife, and then Jim’s lover, she is constantly slipping out from underneath them, purposefully engaging in damaging behavior despite the clear fact that she loves them both.
Based on the autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, published in 1953 when he was 74 years old, Jules and Jim is one of the touchstone films of the French New Wave, encapsulating so well that film movement’s formal innovations and thematic preoccupations. While not as contradictory to classical Hollywood conventions as Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1959) or even Truffaut’s second film, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Jules and Jim frequently breaks the formal rules, flaunting convention while still building an emotional connection with the characters. Raoul Coutard’s ’Scope cinematography is frequently brilliant, mixing smooth tracking shots with jiggly handheld camera work and multiple 360-degree pans that allow the images to race into life.
The themes of personal freedom, choice, and nonconformity also fit in with the interests of other New Wave directors, whose films frequently focused on characters at the margins of society. Jules and Jim was one of the most popular French films of the era, as ’60s audiences saw the screen reflecting back to them their own wishes, desires, and fears, but not in a way that pandered to them. When Catherine unexpectedly jumps into the Seine one night when she feels that Jules and Jim are not paying enough attention to them, it’s a perfect image of her free spiritedness; yet, at the same time, it prefigures the suicidal gesture that will end the film, thus complicating any easy sense of what true freedom really entails.
|Jules and Jim Criterion Collection Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Audio||French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||May 31, 2005|
|Jules and Jim sports a new high-definition widescreen transfer from a fine-grain master positive struck from the original negative. As a new anamorphic transfer, it looks significantly better than Criterion’s laser disc, which was nothing to sneeze at 10 years ago, and it also looks better than the previously available DVD from Fox/Lorber (better detail and contrast). Having been digitally restored with the MTI Digital Restoration System, the image is largely free of blemishes, although there are a few vertical lines that were too big to remove without distorting the picture. Sharpness and contrast are excellent throughout, resulting in a well-detailed, filmlike image that does full justice to Truffaut’s vision.|
|The original monaural soundtrack, mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic master, sounds strong throughout, without any distortion, ambient hiss, or pops.|
|In this two-disc set, Criterion has amassed an impressive archive of supplements that add substantially to one’s understanding and appreciation of the film. |
Ported over the from laser disc is an audio commentary by cowriter Jean Gruault, Truffaut collaborator Suzanne Schiffman, editor Claudine Bouché, and Truffaut scholar Annette Insdorf (because some of the commentary was originally in French, parts of it are read in English by someone else). With all these different points of view, the commentary offers a great deal of insight into the film, although be prepared to wade through some thick accents. Added to the DVD release is a second commentary by actress Jeanne Moreau and Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana, although it was originally recorded as an interview, rather than an intended commentary track. Because the interview was in French, those who don’t know the language will have to read the commentary as a subtitle track.
The first disc also includes 7 minutes of excerpts from The Key to Jules and Jim (1985), a documentary about Jules and Jim author Henri-Pierre Roché and the personal experiences he used to write the novel. The two grown sons he had with Helen Hessel (who was the model for Catherine) are interviewed, as is the grown son Hessel had with another man (who was the model for Jim). More about Roché can be gleaned from excerpts from the 1966 French TV program Bibliothèque de poche, in which Truffaut discusses the author (who died before the film was made) and adapting the novel into the film. The first disc also includes an original theatrical trailer.
The second disc opens with a handful of archival interviews with, and television shows about, François Truffaut (if you put all this material together with the supplements in Criterion’s excellent The Adventures of Antoine Doinel box set, you may feel like you know just about everything there is to know about Truffaut!). There are excerpts from a 1965 episode of the French television program Cinéastes de notre temps dedicated to Truffaut; a segment from the French program L’Invité du Dimanche (1969), featuring Truffaut, Jeanne Moreau, and Jean Renoir; excerpts from Truffaut’s first appearance on American television in a 1977 interview with New York Film Festival director Richard Roud; excerpts from a 1979 American Film Institute Dialogue on Film given by Truffaut; and finally a 1980 interview of Truffaut by Claude-Jean Philippe.
Truffaut’s collaborators are also well represented in an older interview with cowriter Jean Gruault and a brand new interview with cinematographer Raoul Coutard. Lastly, there is a 25-minute video conversation between renowned film scholars Robert Stam and Dudley Andrew. While their discussion is certainly fascinating and they bring some great insight to the film, the conversation itself is a bit awkward as it is too obviously scripted and it actually looks like Andrew is reading off a card behind Stam.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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