Jules et Jim (1961): Truffaut Masterpiece

Jules and Jim," Francois Truffaut's masterpiece of 1961, is a memorably touching tale of a romantic triangle, played to perfection by Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner and Henri Serre.

Many critics would consider this film as Truffaut’s masterpiece. It was certainly one of his most acclaimed and popular picture–until The Last Metro, in 1980.

The movie is set in Paris between the end of the Belle poque and the beginning of the Second World War. Jules and Jim are young artists who enjoy a peaceful friendship–until they meet Catherine, the epitome of la femme fatale. She is the catalyst, the troublemaker, the source of despair as well as joy; an enchantress, she is also a fanatic and a fatalist. Determined to live as fully as a man, she claims equality while using every feminine wile to increase her power position.

Perceived to be Truffaut's finest achievement, though it was only his third work, this sublime romance dissects like no other film the complexities and ambiguities of that uniquely French concept, "mnage a trois." Capricious, exuberant, independent, narcissistic, but also borderline mad, Catherine is impossible to possess, a fact Jules and Jim cannot accept. Jeanne Moreau said of Catherine: "She's not immoral. She's absolute." Catherine, the independent, intellectual modern woman, marries Jules, who can't hold her. In despair, he encourages Jim's interest in her, claiming, "That way she'll still be ours.

Adapted by Truffaut and Jean Gruault from Henri-Pierre Roche's autobiographical novel. The great black-and-white cinematography is by the distinguished by Raoul Coutard, who also worked for Jean-Luc Godard.

Jules and Jim is a celebration of bohemian life in France and Germany between the two Wars. When the film was released in the U.S., it was condemned as immoral by the Catholic Legion of Decency.  yet over the years, it has become a cult film, a favorite showing in revival houses of the 1960s and 1970s.  many critics consider it to be Truffaut's best film.

Still giddy on the possibilities of cinema (this was his third film), Truffaut fills the widescreen with exuberant images and exhilarating editing effects. The circling and swirling of his delirious camera captures the vertigo that Jules and Jim experience when they are close to the elusive Catherine.

Elliptical, witty and radiant, Jules and Jim is one of the best French movies ever made and certainly a highlight of the New Wave. Truffaut doesn't linger–nothing is held too long, nothing is overstated. As a leader of the New Wave, Truffaut "plays" with the film medium. He overlaps scenes; uses fast cutting (in the manner of his colleague Godard's "Breathless," made two years earlier) and leaping continuity; changes the size and shape of the images; and pauses for Jeanne Moreau to sing a song.

Catherine is probably the scren role that Jeanne Moreau is most intimately associated with.  Perfectly cast. Moreau embodies a complex femme fatale, at once a source of joyous awe and destructive danger.  It's hard to think of another film, French or American, in which the central woman is truly a reflection of "the feminine mystique.

Fashion Alert

Jeanne Moreau wore a boy's motoring cap, which influenced fashion.

Director Alert

Truffaut began his career as a film critic for the prestigious publication Cahiers du Cinema. Among Truffaut's many great films are: Jules and Jim, Fahrenheit 451 (1966), starring Julie Christie, The Bride Wore Black, with Jeanne Moreau, the Oscar-winning Day for Night, and The Last Metro. The director is also known for his definitive study, Hitchcock, based on a series of interviews with the Master of Suspense. Truffaut died (of brain cancer) in 1984, at the age of 52, at the prime of his career.

Narrator: Michel Subor
Running Time: 110 minutes