Love triangles in cinema are as old as cinema itself, but most play out along a few generally similar lines. Few take a path so unique as the course taken in François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, a landmark of the French New Wave, a film that on one hand may seem like a light-hearted romance but on the other hand hits notes of great sadness and ugliness in the realism emblematic of the movement. My Jules and Jim Blu-ray review follows after the jump.
Jules and Jim begins in pre-World War I Paris, when Austrian Jules (Oskar Werner) and Frenchman Jim (Henri Serre) meet and immediately bond over a shared love of art and women. The closest of friends, they share everything. Watching a slide-show, they both become entranced with the smile of a particular statue and subsequently seek out the statue itself, promising to take action if ever they were to find a woman with that same smile.
Enter the free-spirited Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), she who shares the statue’s smile. Both men are entranced, but she begins a relationship with Jules; Jim, out of supreme loyalty to Jim, represses his own feelings. World War I arrives with the two men on opposite sides of the conflict. After the war, Jules and Catherine settle in Austria and have a daughter, Sabine (Sabine Haudepin). Jim comes to visit them, but, by this point Catherine has grown tired of Jules. Well aware of Catherine’s numerous affairs but desperate not to lose her forever, Jules gives his blessing for Jim to marry her so that he can continue to see her. Indeed everyone is initially happy, but when Jim and Catherine fail to conceive, she grows tired of Jim, too. Jim decides to return to Paris.
Some time later, Jules and Catherine move back to France. Jim runs into Jules on the street, and the three meet up. Catherine pulls a gun on Jim, but he disarms her and escapes. Again, Jules and Catherine stumble upon Jim at a movie theater. They head off together, stopping outside a cafe. Catherine asks Jim to enter her car to tell him something in private. He does so and Catherine promptly drives the vehicle off a damaged bridge, killing them both. Jules is left alone to dispose of their ashes.
What can one say about such a classic that has not been said before? Not much that isn’t regurgitative or trite. Jules and Jim is an brilliant work of cinema on so many levels. The camerawork and editing were revolutionary, incorporating a fluid camera, raw documentary footage, freeze frames, different aspect ratios and more. The relationship of the three main characters, shocking and controversial at the time, is presented without moralistic judgement–if anything it honors their loves. And then there are those loves themselves–that of Jules and Jim for each other, both willing to sacrifice each’s own happiness for the other’s, as well as both Jules and Jim’s loves shared with Catherine, a true modern woman on her own quest for sincerity and experience.
Stunning is all I can say about this Jules and Jim Blu-ray release. There is a crispness and contrast to classic black-and-white that has never been replicated in color, and the Criterion Collection has captured every detail of that black-and-white beauty here. The (mostly) 2.39:1 picture has been pristinely restored, with no evidence of scratches or dust of any kind. In true Criterion form, audio has not been remixed in multi-track, preserving the original French mono in crystal clear LPCM, also excellently restored.
The disc is loaded with extras. The vast majority consist of archival interviews with Truffault himself. The first is from the French program Bibliothèque de poche in which the director discusses Henri-Pierre Roché, author of the book adapted for the film. In the other the focus is on the Jules and Jim movie: Cinéastes de Notre Temps, L’invité du Dimanche, “Truffault and Roud”, AFI’s Dialogue on Film and “Truffaut and Philippe”. Also included are interviews with cinematographer Raoul Coutard and cowriter Jean Grualt–the second assembled from raw, mostly unused footage from the documentary Working with Truffaut–and a conversation between film scholars Robert Stam and Dudley Andrew about the importance of the movie. Finally, the disc sports two commentary track, one with a group of Truffault’s collaborators (Suzanne Schiffman, cowriter, Jean Gruault and editor Claudine Bouché) and another with actress Jeanne Moreau and film critic Serge Toubiana, as well as the original French trailer. All of the above are selected with the usual care of Criterion to provide deeper insight into both the movie and its director, with the Truffaut interviews being particularly interesting.
All in all, with the Jules and Jim Blu-ray edition the Criterion Collection has once again performed an exemplary job restoring, presenting and elaborating on a classic of international cinema.