“Jim and Jules?”, no, and as Henri Serre leans toward the camera, his eyes bulging and his mouth contorting to give an expression of pompous whimsy, you know what is about to happen. Oskar Werner and Marie Dubois look on. “Jules and Jim!” he proclaims. This fracturing of the fourth wall is enough to deflate the promising introduction. How smart it must have been for the great François Truffaut to do something so bold at the time has now morphed and aged into a fairly amicable and unnoteworthy proclamation. A defiance of the first rule of filmmaking it may have been, keeping the fourth wall intact is something films do less and less as directors look to inspire or provoke an audience. Here, it certainly provokes, but I wonder about the effect and impact of it, and what it means for the legacy of Jules and Jim.
Truffaut expressed and experimented with the films that followed The 400 Blows. The main detraction from this is the lack of intimacy found within, especially for Jules and Jim. It is a celebration, rather than a depiction of life. We are given no deeper, microscopic connection with the characters. They are bachelors. Experienced ones at that. They fall in and out of love not just with the women they swoon and pursue, but with one another. Their platonic fondness for one another is strained, Serre (Jules) and Werner (Jim) are a great leading pair who live free and wild lives, but are not as young as can be perceived. Their way of life relies on the freedom of singularity, but they are happy to give it up when, apparently, the right woman comes along. It is only a matter of time before she enters their lives, and the reactions from these titular characters will be nothing but an adaptation of strain once again.
The trouble is, Jules and Jim expects its absence of hook to in turn be the hook for an audience. “The tranquil smile on the crudely sculpted face mesmerized them.” Why? Why did it mesmerise them? Better yet, why are we as an audience expected to be mesmerised by their mesmerisation? It is one of the many issues Jules and Jim has as a piece, but it is damn likeable and worth enduring. Worth powering through the congratulatory shtick that is seemingly inflicting Truffaut throughout this. It is worth pushing through to see the brief glimmers of great realism he displays, and he does so with great ease and understanding. Throwaway lines that linger on the mind show more depth to the characters than any interaction possibly could. “Don’t put a hat on a bed”, Jules says as he throws it to one corner of the room. It is not the action that is important, but the superstition behind it. It presents much detail behind the man rather effortlessly.
Jules and Jim is a tale of love in a time of war. Affection in the face of jealousy for your fellow man. It is beautiful and touching in a way only the French can manage. At that same time, the touching moments are dispensable and infrequent. “The true victory is that they are both still alive,” they say of the war that tears these friends apart. But their rekindling is a suitably dour procedure. Two men who were once firm friends, regaling each other with tales of their culture find themselves at odds, and jealous of either lifestyle. It is a shame they do not regale their audiences too.