Maybe you’ve never heard of it. Maybe you’ve always wanted to see it. Or maybe you’re just tired of the new. Whatever your reason, the classics are always worth a nod. Every Friday in Stay Classy, we look some of the films that started it all and how they hold up today. So sit back while we reel through the past.
Sometimes, films try to say several things at once, cloaking the work in symbolism, poetry and philosophy. It can only end in one two ways: disaster or brilliance. Jules et Jim is nothing short of brilliant.
Set around World War I, the film follows best friends Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) and the women they cross paths with. One day, while watching a friend’s photo slides, they both become entranced by the photo of a statue of a woman. Captivated by her beauty, the shape of her lips, the depth in her eyes, they decide to visit it. Dressed exactly the same, they go to stare in awe of the statute. “Had they ever met such a smile?” begins the narrator, “Never. What would they have done if they met it one day? They would follow it.”
Later, they accidentally meet Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). She’s childish, free-spirited and impulsive, but what captures the two pals most is her smile. She needs a place to stay for the night so she stays with Jules. Soon, the three become entangled as the two men fall in love with her and can’t help but follow smile.
The entire film is very poetic: story, lines, characters. Watching it feels like reading a beautifully-written novel. Part of it is because it seems so real. This could happen or maybe this did happen–it was based on the autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roché. Everything is believable. It almost seems as if no one is acting. I almost wondered if I could reach through the screen and touch them.
Moreau’s character frees something in you. Watching her on the screen, shaking things up and doing the unexpected, saying what she feels, you realize that there’s a part of her character in you somewhere. Sometimes I think about jumping off bridges into lakes. Sometimes I think about getting lost in the woods. Her character makes you feel as though you’ve actually followed the twists of your own imagination without having done so at all.
Another beautiful part of the film is its use of symbolism. In one scene packing up to go to Austria with Jim and Jules, Catherine packs vitriol into her bag. “What for?” asks Jim. “For the eyes of men who lie,” she replies. Jim tells her she can buy vitriol in Austria so she pours the clear liquid down the drain. It sizzles and smokes. She keeps the bottle because she’s so attached to it. In some ways, Catherine is like the vitriol. The film also turns the theatre and hats into beautiful symbols.
What’s also interesting is the way director François Truffaut’s plays with frames. At times, scenes are shot in smaller frames than others, making the story seem surreal, which it is in many other ways too. It’s as if we are watching a film within a film, though it seems that the furthest removed scenes are the most real. One small-screened scene is about the reality that sometimes, women leave, while the bigger screens are about falling in love with this impossibly charming woman.
The music is also gorgeous, rich and delicate, much like the film and Catherine themselves. It swells and crescendoes and tip-toes and tickles. It illuminates some of the most beautiful scenes and adds depth and feeling to them.
The entire film is so artfully and engagingly crafted that it’s a film that should be brought back today. Audiences might not be large but it would definitely capture and hold the hearts of those looking for something meaningful and moving.