Cahiers du Coco: Jules and Jim



[Join Ettes leader and Fond Object founder Coco Hames as she moves through the Janus Films Essential Art House DVD box set one film at a time.]

Running time: 105 minutes
In French with English subtitles

Writing about my all-time favorite movie is daunting for me, which is why I put it off and this has taken so long to deliver and post! I'm sorry! Jules et Jim is the film (along with The 400 Blows and all things Antoine Doinel) that turned me on to cinema, so not only is it an awesome film, it is a treasured gift in and of itself. I honor you, movie. Namaste.

Jules et Jim is, I guess, a crazy love story. Not an amour fou love story, just a unique one. Jules (played by my forever imaginary boyfriend, Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) are best friends, and the film begins with them as wild young men in bohemian Paris. We watch them meet Catherine (Jeanne Moreau, the best actress ever, Orson Welles agrees with me), who becomes Jules' wife.

War separates the two best friends and pits them against one another; Jim is French, while Jules (like Werner) is from Austria. Catherine and Jules have a daughter, Sabine, and after the war live in a quiet, remote chalet in the Black Forest. Jim visits. Things get weird.

The film was inspired by the semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, who was very old by the time the much younger Truffaut stumbled across the book in a secondhand market in Paris. Then a film critic, Truffaut gave the book a shout-out in one of his reviews. Roché was pleased to know his novel had found such a fan, as it wasn't terribly popular at the time, and he wrote a letter of thanks. The two struck up a friendship, and Truffaut let him know that he planned someday to make it into a movie.

Truffaut consulted Roché early on about how to go about it: “I would set up the construction of the screenplay and he himself would write the dialogue he was planning, according to his own terms, ‘well-spaced and tight.’ ” But he essentially set the project aside until he could do it justice. Roché lived long enough to see pictures Truffaut sent him of Moreau, his intended Catherine, but unfortunately the novelist passed away in his bed in 1959 four days after Truffaut received the letter he wrote in response.

In my copy of the novel, Truffaut writes the introduction and explains how the language and subject matter attracted him: "Through Roché’s style, emotion is born out of the void, the emptiness of all rejected words, it’s even born out of the ellipsis.” Part of the beauty of Jules et Jim is Truffaut's commitment to translating that quiet weight to the screen, something he's great at in his other films as well — including his later Two English Girls, a sort of gender-reversed Jules et Jim based on another Roché novel.

When Truffaut finally got around to shooting the film, he too had some life imitating art going on, as he fell in love with Jeanne Moreau (who wouldn't?) and had an affair with the, ahem, otherwise-engaged-at-the-time actress. (So French.) In my humble opinion, the infatuation and admiration he felt for Moreau is not only evident in the film but makes us fall in love with her too. Which is important. Because Catherine is ... not very nice.

Well. Sometimes she is very nice. Sometimes she is unstable and selfish and mean. I think we call that "bipolar" now. Here I quote Rudi van DiSarzio from The Mighty Boosh when I say, "She is like all women ... strange, and evil." Don't get me started on Catherine. I don't want to BE her, y'all. I just think all women ARE her ...

I used to say, "Never trust a girl whose favorite film is Jules et Jim." But now that I'm older, I modify that advice and say, "If you fall for a girl whose favorite film is Jules et Jim ... watch out."

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