Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim)

Director: François Truffaut
Screenplay: François Truffaut & Jean Gruault (based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché)
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)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1962
Country: France
Jules and Jim: Criterion Collection Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Jules and JimFrançois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (Jules et 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 whose lives and how they view the world and each other is forever changed by a woman. 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 lives take 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 a 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 it 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 moment 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’s 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 her, 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 Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
AudioFrench Linear PCM 1.0 monaural
  • Audio commentary by cowriter Jean Gruault, Truffaut collaborator Suzanne Schiffman, editor Claudine Bouché, and Truffaut scholar Annette Insdorf
  • Audio commentary by actress Jeanne Moreau and Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana
  • Excerpts from The Key to Jules and Jim (1985), a documentary on author Henri-Pierre Roché
  • Excerpts of an interview with Truffaut on the French program Bibliothèque de poche (1966)
  • Video interview with cinematographer Raoul Coutard
  • Video interview with cowriter Jean Gruault
  • Video conversation between scholars Robert Stam and Dudley Andrew
  • Excerpts from a 1965 episode of the French television program Cinéastes de notre temps dedicated to Truffaut
  • Segment from the French program L’Invité du Dimanche (1969), featuring Truffaut, Moreau, and Jean Renoir
  • Excerpts from Truffaut’s first appearance on American television, a 1977 interview with New York Film Festival director Richard Roud
  • Excerpts from a 1979 American Film Institute Dialogue on Film given by Truffaut
  • Archival audio interview of Truffaut by Claude-Jean Philippe (1980)
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Insert booklet featuring an essay by critic John Powers, a 1981 piece by Truffaut on Roché, and script notes from Truffaut to Gruault
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateFebruary 4, 2014

    The new, restored 2K digital transfer of Jules and Jim, which was made from the original 35mm camera negative with collaboration from cinematographer Raoul Coutard, is a generation step up from Criterion’s 2005 DVD transfer, which was made from a fine-grain master positive struck from the original negative (it also corrects an significant error in which several shots were inexplicably reversed in the DVD transfer). Having been digitally restored, the image is almost completely free of blemishes and signs of age. Sharpness and contrast are simply fantastic throughout, resulting in a well-detailed, filmlike image with plenty of visible grain that does full justice to Truffaut’s vision. The original monaural soundtrack, mastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic tracks and the sound negative, is strong throughout, without any distortion, ambient hiss, or pops.

    This new Blu-ray/DVD combo set include all of the same supplements that were included on Criterion’s 2005 two-disc DVD set. Originallyoorted over the from Criterion’s ’90s-era 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. Also included 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.

    There are seven 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. There are also 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 2005 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 ©2014 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (4)

    James Kendrick

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