Willie and Phil: Mazursky’s Tribute to Truffaut’s Jules et Jim

willie_and_phil_posterAfter his great success with the Oscar nominated dramedy, “An Unmarried Woman,” in 1978, Paul Mazursky took a step down with “Willie and Phil,” feature revolving around a romantic triangle, which paid homage to the François Truffaut’s best-known film, “Jules and Jim.”

Set in the 1970s, amidst the  counterculture of that era, the tale begins with a random meeting between Willie (Michael Ontkean), a Jewish intellectual schoolteacher who plays jazz, and Phil (Ray Sharkey), a gregarious Italian-American fashion photographer at a screening of “Jules and Jim” the Bleecker Street Cinema, in the West Village.

The two men hit it off immediately. While different in many ways, they seem to like the same woman, Jeanette (Margot Kidder), a free-spirited (confused?) Kentucky girl who has moved to New York City to figure out her life.

 

willie_and_phil_4_mazurskyJeanette soon moves in Willie, but the three find themselves in a romantic triangle that constantly shifts over the next nine years, as each individual struggles to find his destiny while honoring the love they feel for each other.

Pauline Kael, the New Yorker critic, put her finger on the film’s major weakness, noting: “It could be that the theme of Jules et Jim, which preoccupies Mazursky–woman as the source of life and art, and woman as destroyer–is just what he can’t handle.” She then elaborated: “Mazursky tries to demystify what he experiences as mystifying. This movie is a little monument to screwed-up notions of what women are.”

willie_and_phil_1_mazurskyThe poster for the film (see above) conveyed its ambiguous theme through, the open mouth of a giant goddess who is holding two men in the palm of her hand. They reach up to her with their offerings, one with a bottle of wine, the other with a bunch of flowers. She may be breathing life into these dwarf suitors or preparing to devour them along with their gifts.  Either way, she’s a source of awe and terror.

willie_and_phil_2_mazurskyMazursky later remade another foreign classic, Jean Renoir’s “Boudu Saved from Drowning,” a more successful effort, which he titled “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.”

 

Cast

Willie Kaufman – Michael Ontkean

Phil D’Amico – Ray Sharkey

Jeannette Sutherland – Margot Kidder

Maria Kaufman – Jan Miner

Sal Kaufman – Tom Brennan

Mrs. D’Amico – Julie Bovasso

Mr. D’Amico – Loouis Guss

Patti Sutherland – Kaki Hunter

 

Credits

MPAA: R

Running time: 116 minutes.

Directed by Paul Mazursky.