Jules et Jim is perhaps Truffaut's most famous movie, after Quatre Cent Coups (The 400 Blows). But Jules et Jim is also perhaps his most misunderstood.
Viewed in the rosy nouveaux-bohemian days of the early 1960s, when it was first released, Jules et Jim seems a bitter-sweet remembrance of the carefree years immediately before the First World War, and of the less innocent years after that conflict.
Jules from Germany (a great performance by Oskar Werner) and Jim from France (Henri Serre) are two reasonably affluent young men (they dabble at writing; income isn't a worry) who become captivated by the enchanting, unpredictable and captivating Catherine.
For many people in the early 1960s, Jeanne Moreau's character of Catherine represented a desirable blend of freedom and liberation. She is, after all, pursued and loved by two men, two best friends, Jules and Jim. And she resolutely accepts them strictly on her own terms, deserting them for other lovers as she wishes or needs to. She is a prototype of female liberation at its most liberated.
The film is told through image and narration, and the voice-over technique gives the film its strong 'photo-album' feeling that we are looking at a succession of moving snapshots from the past. The sweetly charming and elegiacal music of Georges Delerue - who created in this one of the best modern film scores - is a major contributor to this mood.
But today we can see that the character of Catherine is not free at all, but is shackled by her own doubts and repressions - more bound perhaps than any of her lovers. She uses sex not for pleasure, but for entrapment and punishment. She needs to possess her lovers, not share them or have them as equal collaborators in life. She is captivating, but what appear initially as fascinatingly enigmatic qualities are revealed as pointers to a fatally self-obsessed and flawed personality.
It is a film that continues to intrigue. And perhaps the above description is just today's gleaning of its meaning - it is a film which demands full involvement and which can sustain a score of individual interpretations.
The cinematography by Raoul Coutard answers Truffaut's vision to perfection. Although shot in black and white, his camera follows the seasons; drenching the screen with the sun of the South, or the bleached light of the Northern winter. The occasional use of a quick freeze-frame to emphasise a point or illuminate characterisation is still effective, and free of mannerism.
This is the second Truffaut movie to be released in Australia, following the release a few months earlier of >Quatre Cent Coups. Truffaut was one of the major filmmakers of the 20th century; more titles should follow.
Forget the description on the back that this is a colour movie. It is resolutely black and white.
The film just glows. This is an excellent anamorphic transfer of the original widescreen movie (shot in a French widescreen mode called Franscope) and there appears to be no damage or wear to the print used - there are no scratches or tears; this is archival-quality. This local Umbrella release is piggy-backing on the excellent Region 2 Mk2 DVD transfer, which is good news for us since Mk2 have issued a whole swag of Truffaut movies in France.
While there are very natural graduations of tone, the overall effect is on the muted grey side rather than with the deep contrasts we see in some American black and white movies. Is this a reflection of the more muted European light? I think so - it's a characteristic shared by several other Truffaut movies shot in black and white, notably the earlier Quatre Cent Coups and Tirez sur la Pianiste.
Where the recent release of Quatre Cent Coups showed some wear and occasional harshness, the soundtrack here is presented in virtually original condition - clean, free of any distortion, and presenting both dialogue and Georges Delerue's score to perfection.
The two-channel mono audio isn't called on to give us anything particularly mind-blowing, but it meets the director's demands to perfection. The clarity of the music is especially welcome - this is one of the all-time great film scores. The collaboration of Francois Truffaut and Georges Delarue became as important as that between Morricone and Fellini, and we are given full measure of the result of that collaboration.