Jules and Jim is a 1962 French romantic drama directed by Francois Truffaut. The film is an important contribution to the French New Wave because of its engaging and inventive cinematography, by way of its quick pacing, alternating aspect ratios, and integration of stock footage. However, what I find most fascinating about this film was its analysis of a common problem that can result during a romantic relationship. The film illustrates that romanticizing
The film chronicles the changing relationship between three friends in early 1900s France over the span of 25 years. Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) are good friends who bond over their Bohemian lifestyles and mutual interests in art and theatre. While looking for romantic suitors, they are enchanted by the independent and free-spirited Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). The three of them soon begin a loose sexual relationship.
Catherine and Jules sporadically decide to get married, and lose contact with Jim. After WWI, in which Jules and Jim both served, the three reunite in Catherine and Jules’ home in the German countryside. Catherine and Jules now have a young daughter, while Jim is dating with another woman and lives in Paris. Jim, noticing the marital tension between Jules and Catherine, becomes increasingly jealous of their marriage and soon has an affair with Catherine. The three of them attempt to retain their polyamorous arrangement, but this soon becomes uncomfortable for Jim, who is frustrated by Catherine’s inability to bear him a child. Jim separates from the group, but reunites with Catherine some time later when she and Jules move to Paris. Jim, after facing an unsuccessful seduction by Catherine, becomes cognizant of her selfish and manipulative behavior. Catherine is distraught by this realization and attempts to kill Jim, but Jim escapes. When three reunite for a lunch date one day, Catherine drives herself and Jim off of a cliff. Jules is left alone and distraught by their deaths.
The three characters are united by their mutual unrealistic interpretations of love. To them, love is full of whimsy and only involves pure happiness. The group spends most their time together running around in the countryside and playing childish games instead of having genuine conversations with one another. Not much is really learned about these characters until later in the film, when Jules and Catherine are settled in their marriage. It is at this point where the characters are forced to deal with their respective personalities, and thus forming the basis of much of their conflict.
Their immature opinions on love are explored through the film’s editing and dialogue. During their meet-cutes, many of the actual events they attend are not shown. The film just skips to the end, thus giving an abridged version of their time spent together. For example, one of the first events they attend is an opera. However, the film shows none of the events of the opera - it instead cuts to the three of them leaving the theatre, discussing what they saw. Another example of this editing is when Catherine and Jules suddenly announce their plans for marriage. There was no scene of them considering marriage or even engagement. This editing style is important because it represents the little thought the trio puts into developing their relationship and their greater focus on promoting the idea of love.
In terms of dialogue, the three of them tend to describe their “love” with vague, flowery language that has little meaning. They, especially Catherine, interpret their feelings towards each other through concepts like “love” and “suffering” as if those words mean anything to them. They do not understand the gravity of the concepts they discuss. This explains why Catherine and Jules marry so suddenly. The three of them do things that they think people in love do, without the emotional resonance, maturity, and understanding required in actually being in love.
Their relationships with each other turn out badly because their childish interpretations of love are temporal. Catherine wants a love fantasy, and uses this desire to justify her petty, selfish, and manipulative behavior. She often throws temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. She claims she wants freedom in her marriage, but in reality, wishes to cheat on her husband while forbidding him to do the same.
This double standard leads to an important reason why her marriage with Jules does not work: her warped justification for of dealing with conflict. Conflict between the three of them is not expected or treated maturely. For example, when Catherine and Jules fight about something, Catherine responds by leaving their house for days at a time to cheat on him. This first happens on their wedding day as punishment for Jules not defending her when his mother insulted her. Catherine does not think to confront directly Jules about this incident because she does not think he deserves any form of healthy communication. Jules and Jim accept this behavior because they believe such a response is acceptable and appropriate, and she continues using this skewed interpretation of morality.
Despite being aware of Catherine’s behavior, Jim is still attracted to her. Jules and Jim project their ideas of a desirable woman onto Catherine, and are surprised when she doesn’t fulfill their expectations. Jules and Jim recognize that though Catherine is not beautiful, smart or sincere, they love her is because she’s a “real woman.” Such a quality is vague and loosely-defined. It seems that Jim interprets her selfishness as a desire for “adventure” and “risk,” and wishes for those qualities as well. However, that kind of mentality does not signify a long-lasting relationship.
Likewise, Catherine projects her desires onto them, and is also disappointed. Her marriage with Jules marriage falls apart because she tried to rid him of his insecurities, which she had initially found endearing. She got tired of him when she figured out how difficult it would be to change him into what she felt as having more desirable qualities.
It is not until Catherine tries to kill Jim does he notice her faults. During this confrontation, Jim realizes that Catherine pursued him so that she could change him, just as she attempted to do with Jules. He recognized her egotism, and thus regretted the flimsy assumptions he had made of her.
By examining the origins of Jules, Jim, and Catherine’s opinions on love, Truffant shows the dangers of projecting one’s fantasies on romantic partners. Pursuing such a version of love is ill-advised and immature because it denies the feelings of those involved. Truffant illustrates that love should instead be taken seriously and maturely. It involves healthy communication and not petty revenge or passive-aggressive behavior.