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Jules et Jim (1962)
|by P. G. R. Nair|
Director: François Truffaut/ France/French/105 mts
In 1912, in Paris, the French bon-vivant Jim meets the insecure German Jules and they begin a great friendship. 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. Both Jim and Jules immediately fall in love with the fickle and independent Catherine . However the naiveté and fragility of Jules attracts the amoral Catherine and she marries him.
Though titled "Jules et Jim", the true focus of the movie is not on Jim or Jules, but on Catherine. Catherine fascinates all of them because she is immediate. "Catherine only revealed things she wanted when she had them in her hand", the narrator tells us. Jim tells her, "I understand you, Catherine". She replies quickly, "I don't want to be understood". The aesthetic tension of the film is not, as one might suppose, between Jules and Jim but rather between their passive, observant natures and her active will and concrete sympathies of Catherine. Catherine doesn't like people being away from her, Jules explains to Jim. "When she has the slightest doubt she always goes much farther than the other person."
If Catherine were simply a "blithe spirit" attracting and capturing the literary drudges, the film would be a grand cliché. But Jules et Jim is not such a simple portrait of Catherine; it is rather an essay on the space between her and her lovers. We share Jim's perspective; he "could only admire Catherine unreservedly by herself; in company, she became something relative." When the two friends meet Catherine and observe her Chariot act, the narrator carefully explains that "Jules et Jim" was moved, as if by a symbol they did not understand". Catherine never escapes from the burden of symbol-hood. The dramatic tension of the film results from the imbalance between Jules' and Jim's image of Catherine and whatever existential reality she might have had.
Elliptical, witty and radiant, Jules et 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. Catherine is probably the screen role that Jeanne Moreau is most intimately associated with.
A series of "Hundred Favorite Films Forever"
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