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Either It’s Raining, Or I’m Dreaming

July 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Jules et Jim 1962

In the month of July, I take a look at films released in my very favorite film stock and aspect ratio: black & white in anamorphic. Unless they’re being financed with credit cards, movies are rarely shot like this anymore because they’re impossible to sell to television. Yet these dreams sneak onto Turner Classic Movies every now and again …

Jules et Jim 1962 U.S. poster Jules et Jim 1962 German poster

Jules et Jim (1962)
Directed by François Truffaut
Screenplay by François Truffaut & Jean Gruault, based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché
Produced by François Truffaut
105 minutes

Constructed on the novelty that a woman might choose the ardor of two men — best friends at that — instead of limiting herself to one or the other, it seems appropriate that Jules et Jim still thrives as a triumph of romance over reason. This jewel of the French New Wave probably shouldn’t continue to resonate as deeply as it does, but its sensual pleasures still intoxicate. Mixing a cinematic cocktail of wisdom and exuberance, a first novel by 73-year-old Henri-Pierre Roché was adapted to film by 28-year-old critic turned filmmaker François Truffaut, who’d been an admirer of the book’s stylish blend of refinement and simplicity. Shot on stolen locations with a small crew on a budget of $280,000, the film was a box office smash in France and critically adored in the U.S., where Janus Films handled distribution.

By 1977, Truffaut admitted that Jules et Jim had become overrated, feeling his adaptation with writing partner Jean Gruault was too decorative and perhaps not brutally honest enough. Shot by Raoul Coutard in black & white “Franscope” — which was essentially Fox’s CinemaScope process, cribbed by filmmakers in Europe and renamed to avoid litigation — the film balances a sad, yearning quality in its rural scenes while moving at locomotive speed through ideas, whims and revelations in Paris. Jeanne Moreau is not my idea of Helen of Troy, but the mystique of Jules et Jim is that she represents any woman whose desires are dictated by the wind, which makes her desirable. The French dialogue moves so rapidly that more than one viewing may be mandated before the full breadth of the film’s pleasures take effect.

Jules et Jim 1962 title card

In Paris of 1912, a German named Jules (Oscar Werner) meets a fellow writer, a Frenchman named Jim (Henri Serre). Exchanging language and culture and bonding over a shared indifference toward money, the men becomes inseparable. Despite his vast acquaintances with ladies about town, Jim is unable to set his friend up with a woman; a nocturnal encounter with a girl (Marie Dubois) they rescue on the street is over for Jules by morning. His luck changes when Jules arranges dinner with Jim and three women his cousin studied with in Munich: one German, one Dutch, one French. The latter is named Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) and her elegant features remind the men of a statue they were just marveling over. After dating for a month, Jules introduces Catherine to Jim and the trio frolics across Paris.

During a holiday to the beach, Jules asks Catherine to marry him. She contends that she’s known more men than he’s known women, but that a union might be amicable. Jim covets Catherine from afar and World War I divides the trio by even greater distances. After Germany’s defeat, Jim travels to a chalet that Jules and Catherine share on the Rhine with their young daughter Sabine (Sabine Haudepin). Jules reveals that despite bringing order and harmony to their household, Catherine is bored easily and has strayed in their marriage with at least three men, while a fourth suitor — a guitar player named Albert (Boris Bassiak) who is an old acquaintance of the friends — convalesces nearby. Unique in some way to each man but unable to satisfy herself with any one of them, Catherine enters into an affair with Jim with dire consequences for all involved.

Jules et Jim 1962

Jules et Jim 1962 Henri Serre Oscar Werner

Jules et Jim 1962 Jeanne Moreau

Jules et Jim 1962 Jeanne Moreau Oscar Werner Henri Serre

Jules et Jim 1962 Jeanne Moreau Henri Serre Oscar Werner

Jules et Jim 1962 Oscar Werner Jeanne Moreau

Jules et Jim 1962 Jeanne Moreau Sabine Haudepin Oscar Werner Henri Serre

Jules et Jim 1962 Henri Serre Oscar Werner

Jules et Jim 1962 Jeanne Moreau

Jules et Jim 1962 Henri Serre Oscar Werner

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 5,805 users: 89% for Jules et Jim

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Dreams and visions · Femme fatale · Military · Museums and galleries · Road trip · Train · Unconventional romance

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 tristan forward // Feb 15, 2011 at 9:26 am

    we saw this on the evening of valentines day in london in a nearly packed national film theatre

    i’d last seen it on a tiny square television in 1974 at the age of 24 and had failed to understand the plot or the artistry

    at last i’m old enough to appreciate the jokes and the subtleties and the vivacious beauty of a really lovely and challenging film which i suppose is part of an extended dialogue on the subject of love and fidelity to which eric rohmer and agnes varda contributed so much in those years

    if you were teaching film then this is still one that has much to offer your students

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