Film School presents a bluffer's guide to classic film. This week, we deconstruct the French New Wave movie, Jules et Jim.
Even more so than Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, Francois Truffaut's cinematic love poem is arguably the best and most influential film of the French New Wave. These films, radical in style and content, were made by a circle of former critics of the influential film magazine Cahiers Du Cinema. Truffaut's famous 1954 article A Certain Tendency in French Cinema was behind the Auteur theory, which argued that directors stamped their signature on movies, and his work put theory to practice. The picture is about the lifelong friendship of two men who meet in Paris in 1912: the Frenchmam Jim (Henri Serre) is a cad, the Austrian Jules (Oscar Werner) is looking for a perfect woman. He finds such a creature in Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) and when their marriage starts to falter he enlists the aid of Jim to stop Catherine leaving.
Jules and Jim are playing dominoes and Catherine, wants attention. She walks over to them and describes how she is commonly perceived. As she pulls an expression, the film unconventionally freeze-frames. It goes from austereness to laughter, a sequence that mimicked the perception of Jeanne Moreau, who at the time was a serious actress. It also highlighted the refusal to adhere to cinematic norms and its influence can be seen not just on other French New Wave films, but on the new Hollywood cinema of the 1970s. The final scene was a precursor to the finale of Ridley Scott's Thelma and Louise.
The character of Catherine was based on a German woman called Helen Hessel. She went to the premier of Jules et Jim incognito, where she revealed, "I am the girl who leaped into the Seine out of spite, who married this dear, generous Jules, and who, yes, shot Jim.
Truffaut was at a bookshop when he picked Henri-Pierre Roche's novel out of a bargain bin, attracted by the fact that it was a memoir rather than fiction. His decision to use a third-person voiceover was inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville's adaptation of Jean Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles.
A brilliant moment in the film sees Jeanne Moreau sing Boris Bassiak's Le Tourbillon to both Jules et Jim. It became a hit record.
The film was huge hit around the world and had 1.5 million admissions in France.
Jules et Jim's influence is impossible to overstate. From lines in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, to songs by The Divine Comedy and Lloyd Cole, the film is constantly being referenced. Cinema and film buffs would not be the same without Jules et Jim.