January is Classic 60s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Markham Cook.
Movie Title: Jules et Jim
Writers: (screenwriters and any authors whose books were used as the basis for adaptation) Jean Gruault and Francois Truffaut, adapted from ‘Jules et Jim’ by Henri Pierre Roché
Lead Actors: Jeanne Moreau, Henri Serre, Oskar Werner
Director: Francois Truffaut
Plot Summary: The story of two friends and a woman who launch on a decades long love triangle –
Pauline Kael’s review summarizes it beautifully: “Truffaut’s celebration of bohemian life in France and Germany in the years of artistic ferment between the First World War and the Second… Elliptical, full of wit this is the best movie about what most of us think of as the Scott Fitzgerald period.”
Why I Think This Is A Classic 60s Movie: In 1999 I wrote an unabashed fan letter to the (by then retired) movie critic Pauline Kael. Part of what I wrote to her was ‘when I’m asked what my favorite movie is, I most often answer ‘Jules et Jim’… I wonder if movies will ever seem so vital, so effervescent again.’
This was Truffaut’s third feature film. The first, ‘Les Quatres Cents Coups’ was relatively conventional, but beautifully realized and moving. The second, ‘Tirez sur le Pianiste’ was Truffaut’s great New Wave experiment – uproariously funny, violent, tragic, dramatic, inventive (if you wondered where Tarantino got that great feel for mixing violence with comedy, and freely mixing genres, look at the early New Wave movies – and note that in Pulp Fiction Samuel Jackson’s character is Jules, and Tarantino’s is Jimmy).
But Jules et Jim was something else altogether. It bitterly divided American critics at the time. It outraged the Catholic Church and censors. It was banned in Italy for years, and rated R in France, despite the fact that it doesn’t have much more than a chaste kiss in it. No nudity. No sex. And virtually no violence. Why?
Because it’s addressing issues which were beginning to come out into the open in the nineteen sixties – particularly the questioning of traditional morality. It’s the story of a love triangle, not played for laughs, and with no moral in the end. It’s three people trying to make this relationship work. Three people who are trying to live life to its fullest.
And maybe more than any other movie I know it looks and feels as though it was caught on the fly. Scene after magical scene is lightning in a bottle, from the writing to the wonderful performances, to the stunning black and white cinematography by Raoul Coutard. This is a group of relatively young movie makers working at the absolute peak of their capabilities and the result is, I think, immortal.
My Favorite Moment In The Movie: There are so many: the spelling challenged anarchist, Jules’ failed attempt at romance with the luminous Marie Dubois, the indelible scene when Catherine jumps into the Seine because the two men are annoying her. But my favorite is the footrace. Jeanne Moreau dresses up as a man, ‘Thomas’, they call her. And the three lovers set out to test their ruse. It appears to work as a man stops to light ‘Thomas’ cigarette and doesn’t notice. Then the three of them line up at one end of a bridge to run across to the other side. And in a beautiful hand-held sequence they race across the bridge, all three in the doomed triangle racing for the same thing, free and fast and joyous.
And because no one can force me to pick just one, the penultimate sequence when Catherine takes Jim for a car ride – no spoilers here – is unforgettable. My then girlfriend, now wife couldn’t sleep the night we saw it, she was so upset by the scene.
My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie
“Tu m’as dit ‘Je t’aime’, je t’ai dit ‘Attends’. J’allais dire ‘Prends-moi’, tu m’as dit ‘Va-t-en’.”
Roughly: “You told me ‘I love you’, I told you ‘wait’. I was about to say ‘take me’, you said ‘go away’. (Of course, in French, it rhymes and scans).
It’s the first thing in the movie, voice over. And it encapsulates the whole movie. Interestingly, this piece of dialogue is lifted from Henri Pierre Roché’s other book, “Deux anglaise et le continent” later made by Truffaut, known in english as “Two English Girls”.
That’s me standing outside the ‘Jule and Jim’ pub and restaurant in Busan, South Korea.
Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie: How the script and movie incredibly subtly layer in a sense of doom. It’s one of those things that’s so masterfully done that the sense of foreboding builds without you noticing where it’s come from – and then you think back and realize that the signs were there all along. I’m thinking of the scene where Catherine jumps into the Seine, or the scene where she burns letters, accidentally setting her dress on fire, or the scene where Jim tells Jules that she will never be happy on this earth. Particularly I’m thinking of the voice over, which is very matter of fact and straightforward, but carries in it hints of tragedy. Think of those opening lines – amusing, and true at the start of the movie, but terrible and tragic at the end.
If you’ve seen Y Tu Mama Tambien, there’s the same thing, sometimes a little more direct. Straightforward narration that veers off into the tragic, setting you up for the end. And that movie is a kind of spiritual re-make of Jules et Jim – the love triangle, the tragic outcome. I’m not sure I would have really noticed the relationship between the two movies, except that the tone of the narration in the two movies matches, and the narrator performs a similar function.
Watch the way that Truffaut’s directing and Raoul Coutard’s cinematography are pitch perfect – the movie feels both like an early silent (it takes place between about 1910 and 1930) and very modern at the same time.
Finally watch the characters, the way they develop, or don’t. The way despite the episodic structure, what the characters want at any given time is clear. Jim goes from wanting Catherine to not wanting her and back and forth. As a viewer you always know which it is, you never have to ask. And it’s all absolutely true to life.
Two weeks after I wrote to Pauline Kael, the phone rang. It was her. We talked about movies, and books, and what we liked. As someone once said, it was like talking balls and strikes with Babe Ruth. She invited me to visit her home – which I did, naturally – and thus began a short acquaintance – she died less than two years later – that was begun and cemented by a love a movies, but in particular a love of ‘Jules et Jim’.
Thanks, Markham! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!
We have 32 volunteers. I have put in bold those who have already sent their guest post to me.
Ipsita Barik – Rosemary’s Baby
Ipsita Barik – Bonnie and Clyde
Mike Dobbins – The Sound of Music
Brandnewusedcar – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Markham Cook – Jules et Jim
Steve Cook – The Blue Max
JasperLamarCrab – 2001: A Space Odyssey
N D – Lonely are the Brave
Drew Dorenfest – Easy Rider
Rick Dyke – Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Rick Dyke – Fail Safe
Felicity Flesher – The Music Man
PaulG – Lawrence of Arabia
D.L. Gill – Zulu
Jeff Guenther – Cool Hand Luke
Kate Hagen – Repulsion
John Henderson – Night of the Living Dead
John Henderson – The Odd Couple
John Hörnschemeyer – The Graduate
Zach Jansen – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Will King – The Pink Panther
William Leitch – If…
Lisaisfunny – Blow Up
Jack McDonald – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nick – Lonely are the Brave
Daryl Powell – The Apartment
jprichard – Persona
Ally Shina – The Jungle Book
Mike Sweeney – Planet of the Apes
Mark Twain – The Loved One
Liz Warner – The Manchurian Candidate
Michael Waters – Dr. No
For those who have signed up, but have yet to email me your post, please do so ASAP.
Thanks in advance!
For the original post explaining the series, go here.