Saturday, 22 February 2014

JULES AND JIM - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Truffaut travels to the sexy, sad, magical and melancholy world of the ménage à trois on Criterion Blu-Ray

Jules and Jim (1962) *****
Dir. Francois Truffaut
Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Though there are many iconic images and sequences one equates with Francois Truffaut's legendary film adaptation of the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, its centrepiece for me, its heart, if you will, is a stunning montage of actual footage from World War I which, occurs in the middle portion of the film.

This evocative encapsulation of the Great War literally and figuratively separates the boys from the men, especially after experiencing a fun, funny, romantic and joyously freewheeling romp through turn of the century Paris with two best friends and the woman they both love.

Then, however, to be faced with the stark, grim realities of savagery among men is not only profoundly moving in and of itself, but reveals a terrible truth that faces the film's central characters and I suspect, as Truffaut hoped, faces all of us.

We witness and indeed experience the disintegration of that which was carefree and celebratory as it transforms into a world of war and death, then further gives way to the reality of post-war aimlessness, restlessness and complacency - perhaps to numb the horrors of war, but to also delineate a void that always existed, but could never be fully recognized until the sense of security youth brings is torn to shreds by facing the grim reality of how cruel life can be and most of all, how we can be little more than pawns on some much larger chessboard manipulated by forces well beyond our control.

Jules and Jim IS a lot of fun, though. We get to experience the "bro-mance" of the good pals (Oskar Werner as the German expat and Henri Serre as a de souche Parisian) whilst they discuss literature, indulge in gentlemanly arts like fencing and, of course, whiling away endless hours and days in outdoor bistros, sipping wine and/or coffee as the hustle and bustle of the world passes them by. And then, there is the ravishing Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) who steps into their lives and the love and friendship, rather than becoming complicated, explodes into pure joy. It's true that Jules and Catherine are lovers and that Jim carries a torch for her, but it's all very civilized as the trio simply enjoy each others' company and spend their days constantly having fun.

Buoyed along by Raoul Coutard's stunning black and white photography and the lush styling of composer Georges Delerue's sumptuously romantic musical score, Truffaut treats us to a 25-year-history of these three people with one dazzling set piece after another including the famous race-across-the-bridge scene which is as pure a cinematic rendering of love and friendship as the movies have given us.

Perhaps a jealousy factor would have eventually crept in, but the idyll of friendship is kept pristine and any conflicts of the heart are cut short by a much greater conflict when France and Germany and, eventually, the whole world goes to war.

The second half of the tale is where we delve into the maturation of the characters, but also experience the lingering effects of separation and war. Truffaut knows enough to keep the romantic fires burning, but he also infuses the tale with a melancholy that is finally what gives the film its heft. His use of the war montage is especially brilliant. He cherry picks actual news and stock footage of the conflict and rather than including any shots of Jules and Jim at all, he wisely and bravely continues with a very literary narration that explains that the characters are on opposing sides of the conflict.

In fact, throughout the film, Truffaut is not afraid to make use of what appears to be third-person descriptive passages as voice-over from Roché's book and he goes further by constantly dropping in establishing shots of both setting and time that are comprised of grainy stock footage. This not only roots the film in a time and place clearly mediated through both memory and cinema, but in so doing, takes the film into the kind of territory that expands its boundaries in all the ways that make the medium so special.

Anchoring a romantic tale by using news footage and narration places the narrative into the context of a kind of Pathé-like newsreel depicting a history of friendship and love against the much larger backdrop of Europe and the eventual conflict that tears it apart. And once again, this is an example of how simplicity is what yields the complexity needed to render a work universal. Truffaut achieves this both stylistically, but also by the passion and commitment he brings to the reality of how great friendships are often founded on common ground and that oftentimes are manifested in the same people being romantically and spiritually attracted to each other in a world where society allows one love and one love only. Truffaut tells a tale so ahead of its time that even now, the world is not quite in a place for the love as depicted here is acceptable to the normally accepted mores of romance.

Thank God, the movies let it happen.

This, of course, is what cinema should be and we can be grateful when artists like Truffaut deliver work that is both entertainment and art of the highest level - work that lives well beyond the ephemeral needs of the marketplace and continues to delight, tantalize and influence. The film is now over 50 years old and yet it feels like it was made just yesterday. Jules and Jim will live for many more decades beyond that which it's already existed.

We owe Truffaut a debt of gratitude for that.

"Jules and Jim" is available on a lovely dual format Criterion Collection package of both DVD and Blu-Ray. Included are such bond bons de added value features as a new, restored 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, two - COUNT ' EM - TWO commentary tracks: one featuring coscreenwriter Jean Gruault, longtime Truffaut collaborator Suzanne Schiffman, editor Claudine Bouché, and film scholar Annette Insdorf; the other featuring actor Jeanne Moreau and Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana, excerpts from The Key to “Jules and Jim” (1985), a documentary about author Henri-Pierre Roché and the real-life relationships that inspired the novel and film, interviews with Gruault and cinematographer Raoul Coutard, a conversation between film scholars Robert Stam and Dudley Andrew, an excerpt from a 1965 episode of the French TV program Cinéastes de notre temps dedicated to Truffaut, a segment from a 1969 episode of the French TV show L’invité du dimanche featuring Truffaut, Moreau, and filmmaker Jean Renoir, excerpts from Truffaut’s first appearance on American television, a 1977 interview with New York Film Festival director Richard Roud, excerpts from a 1979 American Film Institute seminar given by Truffaut, a 1980 audio interview with Truffaut, the trailer and a first-rate booklet that includes an excellent essay by John Powers, a 1981 piece by Truffaut on Roché and script notes from Truffaut to co-screenwriter Gruault. This Criterion Collection collector's edition is an ABSOLUTE MUST-OWN item for anyone who genuinely loves cinema.