Jules and Jim ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Upgrade. Long my least favorite Truffaut (though I've only seen The Story of Adele H. and Love on the Run once each and it was eons ago), but I tentatively assumed I'd get more out of it now; however, looking at the very angry rant I wrote about it after immensely looking forward to it way back when -- so long ago that my source was a rented widescreen VHS tape! -- I can't say I've evolved much. All that's changed is I'm more willing to forgive the things I hate about it because the first half is so breezy and engaging. There are lyrical moments (the Renoir-isms in the countryside) and some enjoyably frenetic editing; as a piece of aesthetic technique, it's perfectly acceptable. I even sort of like the disembodied voiceover, which tends to inject a deadpan humor these pretentious characters badly need. The problem is that said characters are neither enjoyable to spend time with nor particularly believable, and the flippant attitude toward women, while not altogether surprising or even totally lacking critical self-awareness, is egregiously adolescent pretty much from start to end, prodded along by the stilted way in which these people communicate and the repetitive self-imposed misery that determines their relationship, and re-determines it, and does it again, and again and again. And again. When I first heard of this film, it was explained as a story of "three people in love." Buddy, if this is love...

The best scene is that in which Catherine leaps into the water, because it simultaneously lays out the tiresome, trite nature of misogyny dressed with literary pretension while not just directly rebuking it through Catherine's response but even taking the time to single out Jim's tacit agreement-by-silence. Truffaut was clearly capable of this degree of insight, and I think he (like Lubitsch) was vaguely aware that his burned-in condescension toward women was a problem, but thanks (seemingly) to the source novel he gets trapped in some strange loop of decadent misery among the kind of people who cap off an argument about infidelity with a brief exchange about borrowing a book. I suppose my problem is I find these characters deeply uninteresting; I could live with hating them, I could even deal with finding them insufferable, but boring is my limit. This even applies to Catherine, whose one-dimensional cRaZeE quickly runs out of depth and slips into the realm of "male writer [could be Truffaut, is more likely Roché] with massive issues attempting to write a complex woman based on seemingly very limited exposure to actual human women." Despite this, Jeanne Moreau gives a memorable performance, while Henri Serre and especially Oskar Werner can do little to bring personality to the charmless caricatures of angsty intellectualism they are meant to embody. And maybe this is too personal but I'm mildly furious at the knowledge that Sabine is the one who's going to end up dealing with all this mess someday.

I had to chuckle at the plot summary I offered up as a much younger and less mature viewer, which I still think pretty much gets at the whole issue: "Jules and Jim are friends and they meet this girl who looks like a statue they really like. Seriously. So they all cavort and one day she jumps into the water, then gets out. Then the war starts and Jules marries the girl, Catherine. Then Jim shows up. Jim wants Catherine. Jules is losing Catherine even though they have a daughter because Catherine is amoral and has No Boundaries in Life or something. Jim moves in with Jules and Catherine, Jim doesn’t like it when Catherine has sex with her husband this one time because he gets jealous. Now Catherine is with Jim. Now Jim’s someplace else. Now Catherine is with some other guy. Now Catherine is with Jim again. Now Jules is pacing around somewhere. Now everyone talks a whole lot. Now Catherine is pregnant. Now Jim is somewhere else again. Now Catherine isn’t pregnant. Now Catherine is with Jim. Then Catherine drives Jim off a bridge and they die. The end."