Monday, 14 June 2010

We played with life and lost

No 338 - Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim)
Director - Francois Truffaut

Sundays. Lovely lazy Sundays. My plan for today was to mix the World Cup with some massively influential 60's New Wave cinema. My guide for this is the song When the lights go out all over Europe by The Divine Comedy, which mixes plot points from a whole range of different Nouvelle Vague films.

So what does Neil Hannon have to say about Jules et Jim?
Jeanne can't choose
Between the two
'Cos Jules is hip
And Jim is cool
And so they live together

The Jeanne in the song refers to Jeanne Moreau who plays Catherine - the film's key female lead. The song also manages to sum the film up in 5 short lines. However, I want to ramble on and on about it and therefore I will speak about it at much greater length.

The film follows 2 friends, a French man called Jim and a German called Jules and begins in Paris in 1912. The story falls into two halves, interrupted by the first World War. The first half is the most fun and jolly and exciting section, but it is the more serious, more depressing second half which is more important. So I'm going to discuss the two halves separately and speak about them as almost separate identities.

The film begins with the jolliest of circus music, to create a lively and exciting environment before plunging us into the giddy world of 1912. For these opening scenes, Jules and Jim are everything I aspire to be. They seem to live that romanticised French bohemian dream - whilst both being clearly wealthy. They seem to stroll around and drink coffee and/or wine whilst flirting with glamorous ladies. I can't think of a better way to live.
Let me put it in context. At one point they go to the tailors to have identical outfits made to go to the beach. I wish I had enough money to live out those flamboyances. It would be simply super!

I would also like to mention that at this point Jim looks the spitting image of Boycie from Only Fools and Horses.

During this period of being fabulously dressed and flouncing around Paris (a period I near constantly regret not being involved in) we follow Jules. As a German, he is new in town and is very keen to meet people. So we meet a few of his friends and we meet the first of his women - Thérèse - who not only lives the same hedonistic, decadent lifestyle of the male leads but also becomes a key figure in the glamorisation of smoking (something I'll discuss in more detail in my next blog) as she shows off her party trick - using a cigarette to impersonate a steam train.

During this period, Jim has to entertain a group of ladies and Jules falls for Catherine. He begins to see her a lot and the three of them go on some good adventures - they go to the beach and they have the iconic race across the bridge (where Katherine pretends to be a man), which I always get confused with Bande a part and the race through The Louvre.

However - nothing can last forever, and alas war breaks out. Jim - being French - and Jules - being German - end up fighting on different teams and both share the same fear that they'll accidentally kill the other person.

Sadly, even after the war ends and the pair rekindle their friendship, the characters have changed. They're still fun and jovial but there is a definite seriousness in their eyes. They have both lived through the horrors of war and life is different. Jim may still have the essentially single life (though he does have his constant on/off girlfriend Gilberte), but Jules is married to Catherine and has a child.

And herein lies the problem.

Because what this film shows is that friendship can overcome everything - massive lengths of time apart; war; families. But if both friends fancy the same person the friendship will be strained. It does not help if the person in question is a manipulative, selfish, borderline insane bitch.

Which is the only way I can really describe Catherine.

She gets bored of Jules and so frequently has affairs - and after a while decides she loves Jim. Jules can't cut himself away completely from Catherine so the three live together. Catherine uses this to her advantage and so whenever she is unhappy with Jim she will go and seduce Jules. This is really heartbreaking. You have spent the first part of the film falling in love with these two characters who are so full of life and recklessness, and now you see everything that made them fun and jolly being eroded away by the unjust demands of a selfish attention-seeking partner. The group still have their moments of fun, but the majority of the time they're just a sombre reflection of their former selves.

And that is NEVER a fun thing to watch.

Eventually Jim tires of Catherine's games and leaves her, and therefore Jules. Due to Jules' choice of female company, the pair can't see each other any more. And although you can see the friendship gradually crumbling, I promise that you will never see the ending coming.

It is a terrific ending. Which is the perfect coda for a story which starts so jolly and crumbles into heartbreak.

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