Every romantic comedy involving an awkward and convoluted triangle love affair has Francois Truffaut to thank, his 1962 masterpiece Jules and Jim. Truffaut's film, very much lodged in the ideals of The French New Wave, portrays two stalwart friends and a sexually free woman engaging in an intimate relationship in every sense of the word. The stylistic nature of New Wave filmmaking allows Truffaut to portray the frantic nature of love between multiple people by undercutting dialogue, jumping to reactions early and even inserting long inexplicable shots of the natural world around the characters, all adding a genuine feeling of spontaneity to experiencing love. Truffaut, as he does with many of his films, captures the essence of human nature, often focusing on the tragedies of existence, but always reminding viewers that even the most dire of situations can procure moments of happiness. Jules And Jim is an unconventional look at the trials and tribulations that is at all times honest, absurd and heartfelt. It should be no surprise that the film is tied very closely to Truffaut's own life experiences, a practice reflected in many of his works, most notably The 400 Blows.
The title characters Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) are the ideal male pal combination. Jules an Austrian novelist and critic and Jim a French poet find themselves enamored with each others intellect and love for the written word. Throughout the early portions of the film they find themselves perusing the nooks and crannies of Paris, often translating the seminal literary works of each ones respective countries and relating it to their own seemingly mundane lives. It is assumed that their rather repetitive existence promises to remain untouched, however, when both of them meet the quirky, yet attractive Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) infatuation occurs instantly, for both Jules and Jim find themselves attempting to win over the heart...and body of Catherine. After a variety of humorous competitions, mostly of a verbal nature, it is Jules who wins Catherine over and takes her to live on the Parisian countryside. Jim accepts his loss and succumbs to loneliness. Both accept their situations and even fight a in a war that pits them against one another and all seems fine, however, a few months after the war Jules invites Jim to visit him at his country home. While doing so, Catherine, whether inadvertent or not, seduces Jim and the two begin to confess their previous feelings. After a series of miscommunications and letters, Jim discovers that he is to be the father of Catherine's child. However, Catherine loses the child, but not her affection for Jim. In a rather awkward moment, Jules catches Catherine and Jim in a moment of intimacy, but chooses to pretend it never occurred and instead passively asks for Jim to remove himself from their home. Realizing that she is madly in love with Jim, Catherine drives herself and Jim off a bridge into water to assure that they can be together in death. The film then cuts to Jules, narrating the funeral of both Catherine and Jim explaining that Catherine's casket was relatively small, while Jim's was quite large, reflecting his rather grandiose nature. This final commentary by Jules says it all, the relationship that proved most important was the one between two friends, who know each others most intimate secrets and that Catherine, for all intents and purposes, ruined their bond both figuratively by becoming a romantic interference and literally by killing Jim, thus separating him from Jules indefinitely.
As I noted this film is a very intimate work on the part of Francois Truffaut, particularly because this film is quite reflective of his close, though brief, relationship with Jean-Luc Godard. Godard and Truffaut share the spotlight in The French New Wave and film critics continue to debate which individual can claim rulership as the film movement's leader. The duo built their close relationship while working as film critics for the Cahiers Du Cinema and began making short films as side projects; often incorporating each others help as it proved necessary. The ultimate result was the creation of two distinctly different directors that just happened to use a lot of the same methods. In fact, the two worked so closely that many actors appeared in both directors' films and both directors borrowed the others unused footage. Their friendship proved most productive with the release of Breathless, a film written by Francois Truffaut and directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Both Godard and Truffaut received international acclaim for this film, as did Truffaut for the previously mentioned film The 400 Blows. It seemed as tough Truffaut and Godard were destined to be best friends for life and continue to work in collaboration well past the fall of The French New Wave. This change, however, with the rise in workers revolutions in France during the early 1960's. Godard and Truffaut found themselves promoting differing political ideologies during the revolts high points. Their relative views became so severe that the duo broke off their friendship and ceased contact up to the point of Truffaut's death in 1984. In my opinion this film reflects this occurrence in Truffaut's life, even if it predates the actual fallout between the two directors. Jules is intended to represent Godard, particularly given the directors Swiss origins and Jim is undoubtedly Truffaut a fact that is only made more probable by Godard previously making a film titled Charlotte Et Son Jules. Jules and Jim end their relationship and fail to rekindle it before Jim's death and the same thing occurred between Godard and Truffaut. I know this all implies that Truffaut is a psyching, but I am not saying it is meant to reflect it perfectly; instead it just shows how much a director like Truffaut pulled from personal experience for his films. Perhaps this helps to explain the intimate and very honest nature of the late director's work.
This is one of the staples of art house cinema and one of Truffaut's finest outings. I highly recommend checking the film out and getting the Criterion release, because the supplements are phenomenal.