Jules et Jim

Movie Information

Jules et Jim, part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Genre: Drama
Director: François Truffaut
Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre, Marie Dubois
Rated: NR

Along with Godard’s Breathless (1960), François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962) is probably the essential French New Wave film—and it’s possibly even more essential than Breathless, since it had a greater impact on content. Where Godard’s film was essential in defining the style of the New Wave movement, Truffaut’s defined both style and theme in ways that still seem fresh today—and unlike many New Wave films, it never once threatens to become a parody of itself. The staples of French cinema from that era have been so parodied in the intervening years that the originals sometimes verge on unintentional comedy. Somehow—and I suspect it’s because the film is so generously alive—Jules et Jim has escaped that, despite the fact that iconic aspects of the movie have been parodied (Marie Dubois’ famous cigarette-smoking “steam engine,” for example). In essence, the film is little more than a love triangle concerning two young men—Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre)—who are both in love with the same girl, Catherine (Jeanne Morreau). But Truffaut takes all this to places such stories had almost never gone before. (The possible exception I can think of is Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living back in 1933.)

Truffaut doesn’t beat the theme to death, but the film is rife with gay subtext, being as much about the “romance” between Jules and Jim as it is about their love for Catherine. Where previously the two had happily shared girlfriends, Catherine proves the exception, thereby changing the dynamic of the relationship. There’s a strange precognitive aspect to the film, since it seems to be addressing the soon-to-emerge “free love” aspect of the latter half of the ‘60s (and even warning against its downside), since the relationships in the film that are forged in 1912 and interrupted by World War I are easily paralleled by the 1960s specter of Vietnam. Perhaps this is all unintentional, or perhaps it’s the film’s own sense of dread about what was coming, but the foreboding gives Jules et Jim even greater emotional punch today than it had in 1962. If you’ve never seen it, do so immediately. If you have, it’s always worth another look.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “Jules et Jim

  1. Joey

    Two of my most favourite films mentioned in the same paragraph. Design for Living is wonderful old film. Wouldn’t it be nice to see them as double feature?

  2. Ken Hanke

    There are a lot of films I can think of that would make great double features (I’d love to see BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and GODS AND MONSTERS, for example), but the problem is who’s going to do this? Both World Cinema and the Hendersonville Film Society do a great service to the area, but they can’t encompass everything. Then too, there’s the sad fact that while DESIGN FOR LIVING is a great old film, it is indeed an old film and it’s hard to get a turnout for something from 1933 these days. It’s a great pity, too, because folks don’t know what they’re missing.

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