Classic Movie Review: Jules et Jim (1962)

Title: Jules et Jim
Release Date: 23 January 1962
Director: François Truffaut
Production Company: Les Films du Carrosse/ SEDIF

The film begins before the First World War in Paris with the friendship of an outgoing Frenchman, Jim (Henri Serre), and a shy Austrian, Jules (Oskar Werner) who share an interest in the arts and the bohemian lifestyle.  They date several women before meeting Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), a free-spirited woman who reminds them of the ideal beauty of an ancient sculpture. Jules and Catherine begin a relationship and the trio become close through various unconventional adventures, including a time when Catherine dresses up as a man and they go about town together.

The Great War separates the friends as Jules and Jim are each conscripted to fight for their home countries.  After the War, Jim visits the now-married Jules and Catherine at their country home on the Rhine where they live with their young daughter Sabine (Sabine Haudepin). The family puts up a happy front, but both Jules and Catherine reveal that she is not satisfied with Jules and has left him several times and carried on affairs with other men including another of their friends, Albert (Serge Rezvani).

Catherine and Jim begin to explore their feelings for one another.  Jules welcomes their romance as it would keep Catherine in his life.  The trio live together in the country home for a time in a strange love triangle, which eventually sours and Jim returns to Paris.

I enjoyed the pre-War portion of the film and thought it worked as both an historical drama and parallel to the emerging counter-culture of the 1960s. The post-War segment is less interesting to me as it comes across trite and melodramatic.  Truffaut is not the first man to make the mistake that by putting women on a pedestal, he’s actually carrying out an act of misogyny, and Catherine’s character suffers for it.  The last two segments of the film where Jim reunites with Jules and Catherine twice after long periods of separation are especially bad in this sense as Catherine comes across stereotypically hysterical.

Stylistically, this movie ties together the experimental techniques of the French New Wave with homages to the silent films of the era when it takes place.  In fact, Truffaut expertly edits in archival documentary footage from the time.  The musical score by Georges Delerue is also excellent, often implying that the tragic story is in fact a carnivalesque farce.

Rating: **1/2

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