Movie diary: Jules And Jim.

Last night I saw Francois Truffaut's "Jules And Jim," and while I have a lot of thoughts about it, I am not sure what to say and what to leave unsaid here. For starters, let me just give the rest of this post a blanket spoiler warning, because I don't really know how to talk about my overall impressions of this movie without giving away several key plot points, including the ending.

"Jules And Jim" tells the story of two friends who fall in love with the same girl, Catherine. Their differing personalities make them well suited to be best friends, but also have varied effects on their relationship with Catherine. At first, she is intriguing to both of them--uninhibited, especially for the time in which this takes place (mid to late 1910s), exuberant, intelligent, and very attractive--but it's Jules who makes an advance upon her first, and Jules who ultimately ends up marrying her. He's Austrian, and the two of them return to Austria for their wedding, just in time for World War I to break out, which puts Jules and Jim on opposing sides of the war. Years later, when the war ends and both of them have survived, Jim goes to visit Jules and Catherine in Austria, and this is where things get complicated. Catherine has stopped sleeping with Jules, and is now having affairs with different men, even bringing Jules and Jim's friend from pre-war Paris, Albert, to the house to hook up. Things are super awkward between Jules and Catherine, but Jules, being kind of a passive, quiet guy, puts up with it, because he's convinced himself that it's better to have Catherine in his life in a non-romantic way than to not have her in his life at all. Meanwhile, now that Jim knows that there's nothing between Jules and Catherine anymore, he finds his feelings for Catherine returning in a big way. Catherine wants to get with him, too, but Jim is not at all sure about the whole thing because he doesn't want to hurt Jules. He almost returns to Paris, to be with his long-suffering on and off Parisian girlfriend, Gilberte, but ultimately decides to stay with Catherine due to an intervention by Jules, who tells him that he'd rather have Catherine be with Jim than continue to have random affairs with all sorts of other men. Jim moves into the house with Jules, Catherine, and their young daughter Sabine, and becomes Catherine's romantic partner.

So much more happens after this, and I don't want to get into all the push and pull and twist and turn to any great extent, but I must say I found it very interesting that I reacted so strongly to this movie upon seeing it now. You see, I didn't even remember this until I recognized a scene about 30 minutes in, but this is actually a movie I've seen once before, back when I was taking film classes when I was in college. At the time, I wasn't living the healthiest of lifestyles, and I tended to fall asleep during a lot of the movies I saw in that class. I remember being terribly bored by "Jules And Jim," and taking almost nothing away from it back when I was 18. Now, 15 years and a lot of experience later, I found it fascinating. Seeing the way Jules and Jim each reacted differently, but mostly unhealthily, to Catherine really hit home for me. I feel like I tend to behave more like Jules in my own romantic relationships--falling in love with women who have a powerful but erratic personality and then letting myself be emotionally abused by their whimsy and fickle behavior. I passively endured a lot of things in hopes that putting up with them would ultimately bring those women back to me, and it never did. Jim has a stronger personality, but is drawn to Catherine because of unhealthy aspects of his own personality that are reflected in hers. This is indicated in the film through his relationship with Gilberte, his long-suffering on-again-off-again Parisian girlfriend. She is the Jules to Jim's Catherine, always being tossed away when something more interesting comes along, always taking Jim back when the more interesting thing runs his course.

By the end of the movie, it starts to seem like Jim has grown emotionally. He's decided to return to Gilberte permanently, to marry her and stop worrying about his relationship with Catherine. Jules, meanwhile, has passively accepted his fate as Catherine's long-suffering companion, always longing for her but never getting to be with her. Catherine, if anything, has only solidified the impression of her that becomes stronger as the film goes on--that she may be fun to be around, but that deep down, she has no real moral center, and only cares about herself. She never considers the effects that her actions have on Jules, Jim, or anyone else in her life--not even her young child, Sabine. And when she learns that Jim has finally and permanently decided not to be with her, she reacts in an immature and immoral manner. At the end of the film, in one of the most blatant displays of "if I can't have you, no one can" possible, she wrecks her car with she and Jim inside, killing both of them and leaving Jules alone, having lost his best friend and his longtime love, and with a young child he must now raise on his own.

I can certainly see how a feminist reading of this film would find it horribly sexist, especially considering the horribly misogynist Baudelaire lines that Jules drunkenly quotes at the beginning of the film. That said, I'm not entirely sure that the film intends to be sexist just because Catherine is the least sympathetic character in it. I mean, I sort of felt like I was supposed to sympathize with her, at least partly, at many points in the film. Ultimately, though, I couldn't. I've known plenty of people like her in life, both male and female, and after seeing the effects those people's actions have had on the people around them, just as Catherine's actions had harmful effects on Jules, Jim, and many other less central characters in the film, it's hard to retain any sympathy.

Again, I find it telling that I took this much away from my second viewing of this movie, when at 18 I found it mostly pretty boring. I think it says something about what themes resonate with me now, as opposed to what hit me hardest when I was younger. Also, I can understand why this movie is so critically acclaimed; Truffaut told this story masterfully, using minor details to great effect. Little Sabine bringing Albert his forgotten guitar as he was heading into the house with Catherine to "work on a song," Jim's conversation with a friend in a Parisian cafe about how Jules was doing, and the look on his face when his friend said that things with Jules and his wife "must be going well," the bit towards the beginning when Catherine challenges Jules and Jim to a race across a footbridge... Lots of little moments in this movie add up to have a big overall effect. I really liked the way Truffaut used mostly stock footage during the World War I portions of the film. I have my doubts that any director would bother to do such a thing now; it feels like something that some Hollywood director would use as a perfect opportunity to spend $25 million in studio cash to make some big elaborate production set piece out of. I thought Truffaut's way of doing it was a lot better.

I thought this movie was stunning. I really liked "400 Blows," which I saw last year, quite a lot, but I think "Jules And Jim" is probably even better. This just makes me want to see more Truffaut movies, even more than I already did.



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