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Our review of Jules And Jim: Criterion Collection, published July 11th, 2005, is also available.
The relationship between two friends and their object of mutual obsession.
"We played with life and lost."
Facts of the Case
Jules (Oskar Werner, Farenheit 451) and Jim (Henri Serre, The Fire Within) have been best friends for many years. They do everything together: read the same books, work out at the same gym, smoke the same cigars and enjoy the same carefree evenings. Their lives are upended when they meet Catherine (Jeanne Moreau, The Bride Wore Black), a free-spirited woman with an eccentric, thoroughly unpredictable personality. Though both men have difficulty understanding her, they're both fascinated by her. Jules and Jim details the relationships the two men form with Catherine over the following years, and the surprisingly destructive toll it has on the respective lives of all three characters.
Like many of the best films of the French New Wave, Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim announces its ambition right out of the gate. Its justifiably famous opening moments burst with energy, introducing the the characters and their lives with such enthusiasm that the film seems as if it's about to burst off the screen at any moment. Who can watch that opening title sequence (underscored by Georges Delerue's jovial circus music) and fail to find themselves instantly hooked? The film's opening moments are nearly as joyful and alive as anything you'll witness in cinema, and its closing moments nearly as heartbreakingly mournful.
For the most part, Jules and Jim is one of those films remembered much more as film than as a story. After all, it's one of the most revered and influential movies of its era; its stylish energy can be seen in the work of so many great (and not-so-great) filmmakers who have surfed along on the waves Truffaut created. More than fifty years after its release, it still seems so modern—partially due to the wise, reflective, progressive manner in which it examines relationships and infidelity, but mostly due to its frequent bursts of stylish creativity. It's not quite an Edgar Wright movie, but it approaches that territory, between its breathless voiceover narration, sudden blink-and-you'll-miss-them freeze frames and near-reckless chronological leaps.
Despite its technical achievements, Jules and Jim is a beautiful fusion of style and substance rather a victory of style over substance. Its relatable yet enigmatic tale still resonates, and the three leads do such an effective job of essaying the tragic figures they've been asked to play. Jules pours out his heart and soul, only to find out that it's not enough. Jim holds back his true feelings for an eternity for the sake of sparing his best friend, only to discover that his restraint was ultimately meaningless. Catherine seems eternally torn between which side of her personality she wants to indulge—as soon as she gives into one, the other starts whispering in her ear. None of these people are bad or black-hearted (not even Catherine), but they smother, suppress, bend and break each other over the years. I suppose it could be read as a sexist cautionary tale about letting a woman ruin a perfectly good male friendship, but that reading would be a shallow and incorrect (or at least incomplete) one.
Jules and Jim (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection has received a very attractive 1080p/2.35:1 transfer that beautifully highlights the film's crisp black-and-white cinematography. It's a rather noticable upgrade from the 2005 DVD release, with precious few scratches, flecks or other damage present. Detail is strong throughout, and blacks are deep and inky. The LPCM 1.0 Mono score fares quite nicely as well, present Delerue's alternately energetic and melancholy score with clarity. Dialogue is clean throughout. The supplemental package is exactly the same, but it was an impressive supplemental package to begin with: two audio commentaries (one with co-writer Jean Gruault, editor Claudine Bouche, Truffaut collaborator Suzanne Schiffman and expert Annette Insdorf and another featuring Moreau and Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana), several of Truffaut's TV and radio appearances in the decades following the film's release, 20-minute interviews with Jean Gruault and cinematographer Raoul Coutard), a 23-minute critical discussion of the film between Robert Stam and Dudley Andrew, a trailer, a booklet featuring notes from Truffaut and an essay by John Powers and two DVDs containing the film itself and all of the extras (a nice way to future-proof the package for those still stuck with 480p).
Jules and Jim is one of the great films of Truffaut's career and the French New Wave as a whole. It holds up as well as ever today, and remains a sobering, complex examination of friendship and love. Criterion's Blu-ray release is a stellar update of their exceptional previous release.
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