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In Paris, before WWI, two friends, Jules (Austrian) and Jim (French) fall in love with the same woman, Catherine. But Catherine loves and marries Jules. After the war, when they meet again in Germany, Catherine starts to love Jim... This is the story of three people in love, a love which does not affect their friendship, and about how their relationship evolves with the years. Written by
Although "Jules and Jim" was made over 40 years ago and takes place 40 to 50 years before that, the amazing thing is that it barely seems to have dated. Because it focuses on the universal human relationships between its characters, rather than the specific time in which they live, it's the rare film set in the past that doesn't feel like a "period film." And, especially in the first half of the movie, Truffaut's New Wave techniques lend a remarkable energy and freshness.
The movie explores friendship and love among three semi-bohemian types: Parisian Jim (Henri Serre), Austrian Jules (Oskar Werner), and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), the beautiful, free-spirited woman whom they both love. She's the most vibrant character in the movie, and impossible to pin down. It's never clear who she lovesshe contradicts herself repeatedly, and perhaps loves no one but herselfor whether she's diabolical or simply misunderstood. Moreau nearly steals the movie, if not for the fact that the title reminds us to focus on the relationship between the two men, and that Serre and Werner give good performances too. Even if Jim and Jules aren't as mysterious as Catherine, they're complex and interesting characters in their own right.
The story plays out rather episodically, which means "Jules and Jim" is full of wonderful little moments, often involving the crazy things Catherine does. Some of my favorites include her dressing up as a man and racing Jules and Jim across a bridge; her jumping into the Seine in frustration; and her singing the movie's charming theme song, "The Whirlpool of Life." The episodes are linked together by surprisingly unobtrusive off-screen narration, which keeps the film moving along rather than slowing it down.
"Jules and Jim" does get a little tiresome toward the end, with Catherine continually vacillating between the men in her life, Jim vacillating between Catherine and his old girlfriend Gilberte, and Jules remaining loyally devoted to Catherine despite how foolish this may seem. However, the movie is redeemed by its tragic final scenes, which poignantly contrast with the carefree gaiety of the beginning. Jules, Jim, and Catherine are caught in a destructive spiral, tossed and defeated by the whirlpool of life. Still, the tone of the movie is gentle and human, not pessimistic. Truffaut considered "Jules and Jim" a "hymn to life," and it is most memorable as a vivid celebration of friendship and youthful possibility, even as it acknowledges how those things can sour.
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