Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim) is a film adaptation of a little-known French novel written by Henri Pierre Roche in 1953. The main characters of the story are Jules and Jim, two strangers who met, became good friends and fell in love with the same woman, Catherine. The story began in pre-World War I Paris and ended in rural France just as German fascism is rising in Europe during the 1930s. Jules, is a shy, conservative Austrian biologist while Jim is a tall, extroverted Frenchman writer. They shared the love for literature, theater, art, talking and drinking that drew them into a close, almost conspiratorial, friendship.
They translated each other’s poetry and shared girlfriends as casually as they shared cigarettes. During a visit to their mutual friend Albert, he played them with slides of Greek sculptures that he’s rescued, one of which grabbed their attention with its enigmatic smile. Their obsession with the statue led them to visit the Adriatic island on which the statue is located so that they can more closely observe its enigmatic smile. They decided that if they ever find a woman with the same look that they would grab her and never let go, hardly dreaming that their wish could come true.
The real enigmatic smile, however, belonged to the mysterious, unconventional Catherine who entered their lives shortly afterward. She looked just like the statue and is similarly difficult to understand below the surface. Jules and Jim are both instantly infatuated with her. The three had many good moments but for the first time Jules asked that they don’t share everything, needing Catherine for himself. Jim acquiesced, even though he desires her, because he loved and valued Jules. Jules managed to woo Catherine with his naivety and freshness and was able to persuade her to accept his proposal of marriage.
Jim was happy for the both of them, although he knew that Catherine might be just too stubborn and tempestuous to settle down easily. He bade them farewell as they traveled to Germany for the wedding. Unfortunately, World War I broke out. Jules and Jim were drafted into the opposing armies. Fighting on the French front their chief fear was that they could shoot each other. Luckily, the two friends made it to the Armistice. After the war, Jim visited his old friends in their rural chalet. Jim was writing newspaper articles on the shattered country. Jules and Catherine have now a five-year old daughter Sabine.
On the surface, it seemed that nothing has changed. Jim immediately realized that the marriage is on the verge of collapsing. Catherine had several lovers, even leaving Jules and Sabine for months at a time. Jules with absolute devotion and love for Catherine ignored these dalliances. He was determined to stay with Catherine at all costs even when she was engaged in an affair with Albert. However, Jules knew that the love, understanding and freedom he gave Catherine are not enough to keep her. He came up with an audacious idea that he divorce Catherine and asked Jim to marry her.
This way she at least stays within their tight circle. Jules and Jim’s friendship seemed strong enough to withstand such an upheaval, even with the resultant jealousy that could occur. Catherine agreed, relishing a situation where she can bed hop with any man she chose. Jim was still in love with his mistress Gilberte in Paris though. He returns to her when he is in Paris on business. This sent Catherine into violent mood-swings. Jules understood that his love would never be reciprocated. He never became angry with Catherine or Jim – their relationship remained.
In the end, Catherine shot Jim and at the same time commited suicide when she plunged their car into the river. In the end Jules who has remained devoted to his friend and wife was left alone. The novel is a semi-autobiography of Henri Pierre Roche. Helen Hessel (nee Grund) is the woman in Jules and Jim. Helen with her mantle of blond hair was more athletic than the two men of this delicate and passionate love triangle. Roche was tall and slim dandy even if he once boxed in the ring with Braque. There was something languid about him. Franz Hessel was small and rotund.
He was the son of Jewish bankers. Franz met Roche in Montparnasse in 1906 and they became inseparable friends. One evening Franz described the women in Munich to his friend. He excitedly sketched their profile on a small coffee table. Roche wanted to buy the table. The two friends shared women without rivalry. When Marie Laurenen, a painter, illustrated Hessel’s poetry, Roche edged into their intimacy. However, when Hessel met Helen Grund, a painter of Prussian origins, Franz advised Roche that he could not share her with him. World War I separated the three.
But at the end of the war, Roche rushed to Helen and Franz. The two have been married and was living in a forest near Munich. When Roche and Franz met, they kissed each other on the mouth and immediately pick up their pre-war conversations. Helen was slightly embarrassed which was the prelude to passion. The unusual knit of love and friendship prospered. Helen’s love ended when Roche disclosed that he is married, and has children from two other women. Helen shot him but both lived very long lives. Hessel died earlier in a French concentration camp in 1941.
Out of tenderness, Roche, in his novel and also in the film, one watched Helen and Franz die in a plunging automobile. Roche wanted, perhaps, to offer them revenge. Roche wrote this story with meticulous shamelessness to his Notebooks during 1920-21. In the early 1950s Roche started to write a novel and in 1953 the anecdotal accounts in his notebooks were immortalized in his novel Jules and Jim. It was in 1955 when Francois Truffaut discovered Jules and Jim with other secondhand books in the Stock Bookshop stall in the Place du Palais-Royal.
He noticed that it was the first novel of a seventy-year-old. He saw that the lightness and grace of that burning story could have come only from a very long decanting of emotions. Truffaut saw the magic of the telegraphic style of a poet who forgot his culture and lined up the words like a laconic, stolid peasant. He was then a film critic who not yet made a feature film. In 1956 he reviewed an American film, Edgar Ulmer’s “The Naked Dawn”, which is about a triangular love affair. In the review he mentioned the novel Jules and Jim. Roche saw the review and wrote to Truffaut who came to visit him.
In 1959 Truffaut sent Roche a letter enclosing photographs of Jeanne Moreau. In 1961 Trauffaut directed the film adaptation of Jules and Jim. Jean Grault and Francois Traffaut himself wrote the film script. Raoul Coutard did screen photography and music by George Delenue. The cast was composed of Jeanne Moreau (Catherine), Oskar Werner (Jules), Henri Serre (Jim), Vanna Urbino (Gilberte), Marie Dubois (Therese), Boris Bassiak (Albert), Sabine Haudepine (Little Sabine) and Michael Subor (Narrator). The film was based a novel and as novels are usually long, the script has to be reduced to a film’s acceptable length.
Truffaut employed a very aggressive and tight editing that made the first half of the film very fast moving and entertaining. The pace slowed in the latter half as the audience is drawn into the intimacy of the love triangle. Truffaut’s genius as a director was shown in this latter part, as he was able to evoke some remarkable performances from his actors. He was able to draw out the interminable human emotions that such a situation creates. Raoul Coutard had created a beautiful and fluid photography. George Delenue’s musical score was equally beautiful and evocative.
Both images and music were able to capture the subtle changes in the mood of the story with an almost devastating effect. Jeanne Moreau in the role of Catherine was extremely brilliant. It is as if the role had been written for her. The role of Catherine exudes the character of a woman who has a curious blend of strong-minded independence yet has a childlike vulnerability. These characteristics suited Jeanne Moreau perfectly. She was totally bewitching as the impulsive femme fatale. In her scenes where she displayed emotional insecurity Moreau was poignant and engaging.
She sung Cyrus Bazziak’s “Le Tourbilon de la vie” as if it was the story of her life. Jeanne Morau was the perfect Catherine. The celebrated Austrian stage actor Oskar Warner played Jules. Truffaut cast Werner because the actor impressed him with his performance in Max Ophul’s film Lola Montes. He would also cast Werner in his later film Farenheit 451. French actor Henri Serre played Jim. Truffaut chose Serre mainly for his physique, tall and thin, and with a deep but gentle voice. Serre closely resembled the young Henri Pierre Roche. Werner and Serre had proven their worth as actors in this film.
In Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, one is presented with three central characters yet the title refers to only two of them, Jules and Jim. The third character, Catherine, appears to dominate both the action and the other central characters, but her name is noticeably absent from the film’s title. If one has not read the novel the omission can be troubling. This is because Truffaut had romanticized the novel. The film basically explored the romantic relationship between these three characters. Although the film presented the friendship between the two men, Catherine became the dominant character.
The film first introduced the viewers to the characters Jules and Jim and began to trace their relationship from its earliest stages on. The narrator introduced the audience to points of commonality between the two. At times the distinctions between the two characters seem to disappear as if they were one entity, as is the case when Therese asked Jules if he is Jim before showing off her amusing cigarette trick. The film took a lot of time to establish their “ambiguous relationship” as Jim describes it in an excerpt from a novel he is writing about their friendship.
Ambiguous is an interesting word choice as it points out that the relationship between Jules and Jim was not commonplace. In the novel, the story is more about the deep friendship that developed between the two men hence the title Jules and Jim. It is a chronicle of their lives from the time that they met until the unfortunate death of Jim. The novel showed how the friendship developed that even war between their nations and not even Catherine could not cause a rift between them. Catherine is a happenstance; someone who entered and became a part of their lives.
Jim also might have desired Catherine but it is Jules’ companionship that he sought. In the book, the commonality of the two men were also established but not to the point of being a single entity. The differences in their characters were also established and that these differences in them is what their relationship kept going. In the book Kathe (Catherine) did not appear until chapter 15. The novel from the beginning is premonitory. Kathe is beautiful and clever, a nudist, a shoplifter and a loving mother, bold, faithless and violent.
Roche showed her as destructive and even deranged. In the film, Catherine was depicted as a consummate free spirit but her character could also be taken in a different light. Catherine as Roche has described in his book is deranged or has mental illness. Her mental illness is more obvious toward the end when she threatened to shooy Jim and then later succeeded in taking him with her in a murder-suicide. It was also present in the early part of the film with her impulsiveness and lack of regard for other people. It was also presented in the scene with the “vitriol – for lying eyes”.
Truffault romanticized her mental illness but Catherine’s symptoms and destructiveness were quite clear. She is anything but the “life force” the narrator calls her. She used her sexuality destructively searching for the love she can never sustain. However, Truffaut’s art is such that Catherine’s diagnosability did not detract from the fascination of the story. As played by Moreau, Catherine is capricious. She is enchanting but also dangerously unpredictable and flighty. She is the consummate free spirit constantly fighting for freedom and equality afforded to men. However, she also has a need for love and security.
In the film, Catherine is less solidly constructed as a person than either Jules or Jim. She is presented more of a concept; the embodiment of existentialism and the freedom from the strictures of moral obligation. The idea of Catherine was first introduced when Jules and Jim was presented with some slides by Albert. The slide of a Greek statue impressed them and decided to see it in person. When they went to the Adriatic island where the statue is located, both were wearing the same outfit, heightening the lack of distinction between the two in their relationship to Catherine.
The two met Catherine for the first time at a dinner party. The camera moved back and forth between a frontal shot then profile of Catherine the same manner when the face of the statue was presented to them. In the book Jules is portrayed as sweet and complaisant. Jim was edgy and as faithless as Kathe. He tends to go home to his mother when he can’t take his complicated life any longer. If in real life Helen and Roche lived to a great age, their fictional and cinematic suicide is hinted at early on in the book.
This is shown when the three decided to reinvent the world. As Kathe said, “We must start from zero and rediscover the rules, taking risks and paying for them. ” In the movie, Jules was contented to simply be with that which he loves even on its own terms. He has portrayed as having a streak of martyrdom in himself. He can also be completely dispassionate. Jim was portrayed as perhaps the most human and conventional of them all. He demonstrated his patience and anger and actual concern for human suffering and his ability to actually feel it, too.
Jim was fickle yet devoted; he was able to turn off his feelings like a light switch, but was always looking for a reason to commit. If Catherine is seen as the personification of the anarchism and existentialism in the society, then this film can be seen as the story of two men and their flirtation with a life unfettered by clearly defined rules and moral obligations. It is the freedom of Catherine’s soul that both Jules and Jim find attractive. Like catching a moonbeam in a jar, she presents a futile challenge. Neither can possess her completely for she cannot be contained.
The film also alluded to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. There are similarities to the novel by Miguel Cervantes. Jules and Jim become infatuated with Catherine as much the same way as Don Quixote becomes infatuated with his own ideal woman, Dulcinea. Underneath the ideals that Catherine represents, the chaos of her character, she is no more Dulcinea than the un-extraordinary Aldonza Lorenzo is. Blindly they follow the smile on the statue to a tragic end. On the other hand, the character of Catherine can be contrasted to the principal female character in Sinclair Lewis’ novel “Main Street”.
The two characters are as opposed with one another as the one in “Main Street” is totally hemmed in her role in a dull and stifling society while Catherine lived in a society free of normal conventions. Jules and Jim used this freedom from convention and other social restraints to show the hollowness of the romantically unconventional “free love” attitude. Main Street, meanwhile, show the monotony, emotional frustration, and lack of spiritual and intellectual values in American middle-class life. This film is also a great antidote to some of the minimalist film styles recently seen in “Capote” and “Lost in Translation”.
In this film, Truffaut failed to reconcile his core of melancholy with a more acute perception of character, something he perfected throughout his Antoine Doinel series and in the “Two English Girls”. This second adaptation of Roche’s work bears more thana few similarities to this film but it is a far more mature and satisfying work. Even if Truffaut was not able to present Jules and Jim the way Roche wrote it, his work as a director is highly commendable. Roche’s novel was highly narrative but Truffaut managed to mould his characters so accurately to the events of their time.
The film chronicled almost three decades in the lives of its three central characters. It started just before the outbreak of the First World War, ending at the time of Great Depression and the rise of Hitler and Fascism. Truffaut did this with the aid of photographs, paintings, novels, music, theatre and old movies. The various notable aspects of the film are the beautiful use of composition; the evocable rendering of the striking and harmonious score; the imaginative use of film with freeze-frames and frame shrinking; the period feel which is both of the early decades of the 20th Century and timeless.
The use of zooms, flash cuts and freeze frames represented the carefree days of youth. Slowly the use of this artistic method disappears, as the marriage slowly disintegrated in the unhappy days of the postwar years, representing the transformation of their carefree youth to a more turbulent stage of their lives. The use of documentary footage is also notable. Truffaut has done an excellent job of merging documentary footage of World War I trench combat into the fabric of the film. There is no dissonance in when switching between documentary stock and directed footage.
It makes the viewer feel how it is to live in that era. It also added credence in the period feel of the 1900s. Jules and Jim was on a modest budget and the director often used his friends home for the location scenes. Since Jules and Jim are both literary artists their lifestyles in a secluded Ardennes cottage is believable. The set up also made the development of a love triangle more possible. It is one film that illustrates better the axiom that the best filmmakers have to know about all the arts.
Truffaut was able to convey the beautiful prose of Roche in the dialogue of the characters and of the narrator. The composition of the dialogue has a remarkably strange feel that constantly surprise the viewers with its twists and turns. The dialogue tells more about the characters than the words themselves. The excellent, natural and sympathetic performances of the three leading actors made the viewers feel for their future, even for the difficult manipulative Catherine.
As a viewer, I can say the film is superb in bringing out the raw emotions of a friendship and love. I can feel for the emotional turbulence of being in a love triangle. I hated Catherine for being so reckless with regards to the feelings of Jules and Jim. I pitied the two men for not seeing the true Catherine and in the end letting her ruin their friendship. However, I would recommend the viewers to read the novel. The emotions in the novel are not entirely different from the movie but Jules and Jim are more aptly portrayed in the novel than in the movie.