Jeanne Moreau in one of her most celebrated roles in François Truffaut’s Jules Et Jim
"A beautifully shot fun romp that isn't afraid to question received ideals of morality and find them wanting." | Photo: UniFrance

Classic is a term bandied about so often these days, it's hard to discern at first glance which films have truly stood the test of time and which lost their edge down the years.

Francois Truffaut's Jules Et Jim is often touted as one such timeless wonder and in many respects it is easy to see why. Born out of the Nouvelle Vague, which saw a raft of poachers turn gamekeeper, as film critics, including Truffaut, Jean-Luc Goddard and Eric Rohmer, stepped behind the camera to push back the boundaries, this is a far-from-simple love story.

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Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) are students in pre-First World War France. Jules is Austrian and Jim French, which matters not a jot to them, as they double date, spar with one another and generally live it up. When the mercurial Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) comes to visit, they are totally smitten, finding themselves caught up in her capriciousness, devoting themselves to her company and dedicating themselves to her happiness.

Jules is the slightly gutsier of the two and proposes, but just because she marries him and bears his child doesn't stop her switching her allegiance to Jim and back again according to her mood. Spanning 20 years, Jules Et Jim traces this curious love triangle, in which the men seek only to keep Catherine happy, subjugating themselves and refusing to bear one another malice whatever happens - no matter what shadows lurk on the horizon.

It is easy to see why it caused such a stir at the time of its release. After all, in a world which encourages monogamous relationships, the film insists that there is another way, whereby three people can live together in a moral framework, largely without jealousy, while bursting at the seams with joie de vivre. The three main characters are so happy to be alive - at least for the most part. They seem so easy with their arrangement, you cannot help but be swept along by their enthusiasm.

It is not without its darkness, however. The war, which neatly cuts the film in two and sees Jules and Jim on opposite sides, is cleverly constructed, using stock footage to show actual soldiers. This feels more realistic, because Truffaut doesn't actually place either of his protagonists in a trench, relying instead on the device of showing Jules writing letters home, as if from the front line.

Catherine, too, is a quixotic character, one moment overjoyed to be with one man and the next keen to bed the other. Jeanne Moreau manages to capture her quirkiness and this darker element so well, drawing you into her story and keeping you there, with Werner and Serre as perfect foils.

Truffaut's investigation of love is an interesting one, even today, as he doesn't suggest for one moment that there is anything other than camaraderie and friendship between Jules and Jim. Doubtless, many would love to read homoerotic elements into their life-long sharing of Catherine, but, as Moreau says on her commentary, this would simply be reading something into it which isn't there.

This is a beautifully shot fun romp that isn't afraid to question received ideals of morality and find them wanting. May its "classic" status long continue.

Reviewed on: 20 Sep 2002
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A French love triangle, spanning the years. Out on reissue in May.
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Director: Francois Truffaut

Writer: Francois Truffaut, Jean Gruault, based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roche

Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre, Marie Dubois, Boris Bassiak, Danielle Bassiak, Sabine Haudepin

Year: 1962

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: France


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