The New Wave oscillated wildly between being transcendentally good and mind-numbingly, bogglingly bad -- not only between films, but also within films. Jules et Jim contains both the transcendental and the boggling, but the emphasis is, thankfully, on the former.
|Jeanne Moreau: avoiding skin cancer before it was cool!|
Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) is a card-carrying, dues-paying Manic Pixie Dream Girl: a nauseatingly overused character type nowadays, but maybe relatively fresh in Truffaut's time. She endears herself to Jules and Jim by doing stupid things like drawing on a fake mustache, carrying around a vial of sulfuric acid to throw in the face of a hated ex-boyfriend, and jumping into the Seine to get away from an annoying conversation. Naturally, Jules and Jim fall desperately in love with her, and Catherine proceeds to date one, then the other, for literally like thirty years. One day, she gets bored and takes Jim for a joyride off a cliff, leaving Jules to have his friends cremated. Boo hoo hoo, The End.
Catherine is, without a doubt, the worst thing about Jules et Jim. I don't care if Moreau's performance was #80 on Premiere Magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. I don't care if Faye Dunaway did base her performance in Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) on Catherine. I don't care if Jeanne Moreau is the greatest actress in French cinema, or in the world, for that matter. Catherine doesn't have a personality, she only has quirks. She doesn't have motivations, she only has appetites. Worst of all, she isn't interesting: she's just weird. Jules et Jim spends way too much time documenting her various exhausting foibles and not nearly enough time on its title characters, whose relationship is what's the real point here.
But now and then, quietly, Jules et Jim is brilliant. Rapid editing around shots of an ancient statue, making it look "alive", anticipates Kubrick's "dancing" Jesus figurines in A Clockwork Orange (1971). On the other end of the spectrum, sudden freeze frame-closeups "immortalize" Catherine's beauty, carving it in celluloid stone. An original song, "Le tourbillon", is both the climax and the touchstone of the film: its lyrics underscore the heroes' tumultuous journey, and the song itself is a delicate and lovely example of early 60s folk (never mind that the movie is set around WWI). It's too bad these lovely gems are mired in a sea of footage of Jeanne Moreau looking endlessly moody and gorgeous.
Jules et Jim gets a 3/5. What!, say film critics everywhere. A 3/5! Don't you know this movie is seminal! A work of genius! A masterpiece of the French New Wave! Blah blah blah, whatever. Like I said in my review for Gun Crazy, the fact that a movie is influential doesn't mean it's flawless.
|I visited France in 2008-ish and people were STILL allowed to smoke in restaurants. Ugh.|