As I've gotten older, this movie has become more and more emotional for me. The characters briefly live out a kind of reckless and carefree nirvana. They then spend the rest of the film trying to recreate the feeling. But as time goes on, entanglements creep in. Children are born. Wedding vows are taken. Friendships are tested. Which of us over 30 cannot relate to this?
The last line of the film, a seemingly tacked on detail about a request made to a civil servant, sums all that has come before with pure poetry. A final plea for freedom is made, but..."it was not to be permitted".
Jeanne Moreau's Catherine is eternally alluring, selfish, manipulating, and cruel. She is perfect as the siren who plays with men as a cat plays with a mouse. Oscar Werner gives a sympathetic performance as the idealistic and vulnerable Jules, who goes from carefree youth to melancholy middle-age. Henri Serre is well-cast as Jim, more quiet and introspective, yet still helplessly drawn to the enigmatic Catherine.
This is the kind of movie one admires more each time you see it. At first, you are dependent on the subtitles; later you just enjoy the flow of scenes, the gradual change in mood from youthful exuberance to subdued acceptance, and then the stark and tragic, yet inevitable, conclusion. If you like character-driven stories about unconventional people, you'll enjoy Jules and Jim.
Francois Truffaut wrote this of Jeanne Moreau in 1957. Shortly afterwards, when fascination turned to friendship, the burgeoning director's greatest ambition would be to make a film with the woman who had become the most important person in his life.
In JULES ET JIM, Jeanne Moreau's is a performance of touching beauty and lucidity that is unparalleled in cinema. She is Catherine, the woman in love with life, who in turn falls in love with both Jules and Jim (superb performances from Oskar Werner and Henri Serre), amateur scholars, dandies, and the closest of friends. Over the following years, through joy, disillusionment, a world-war and parenthood, the three share a relationship that defines love itself; as Catherine alternates her pledge of devotion from Jules to Jim, and even to other men, our heroes explore a friendship that has been touched by a soul who is "not a woman" but rather "...an apparition".
But Catherine is not "fatale"- rather the very essence of woman, whose divine right it is to live as she pleases, when she pleases, where any potentially ruinous consequences are the unfortunate fruits of an unmitigated love of love itself. Truffaut's art is one that invokes the Goddess, embodied here by an enigma of extraordinary grace and power. His camera laughs with her, cries with her, and encapsulates with amazing dexterity the flow of movement - the whirlwind of life. The theme of JULES ET JIM- a triangular love affair that questions monogamy - is unhindered by any sensuality or sexual intimations. Instead it is a love that is pure, chaste and eternally resonant. The remarkable tact of Truffaut's direction, the refutation of showiness, conveys a cinema of charm and elegance, as the film's mood undulates in accordance with the whims of our great love Jeanne Moreau - from untold joy to the heavy burden that is the awful truth.
JULES ET JIM is a film of harmony and genius, a hymn to life that asks the audience not to judge, but rather to experience and to love. We can relate to the film Truffaut's own words, when, speaking of Nicholas Ray's JOHNNY GUITAR and Howard Hawks' BIG SKY he said: "Anyone who rejects either should never go to the movies again, never see any more films. Such people will never recognize inspiration, poetic intuition, or a framed picture, a shot, an idea, a good film, or even cinema itself."