I think I can understand why Jules et Jim is revered by some and reviled by others. It is a film which doesn’t make a great deal of sense rationally and, in many ways, I can imagine its modernist extra-contextual content could be construed as pretentious. Truffaut’s film centres on three flawed characters and proceeds to examine the nature and shift of their relationships. So, yes, I can also imagine people thinking that it is conceptually arid. And some of the dialogue is barmy- “Your breasts are the only grenades I love” being a particularly fine example of that. There is plenty here that critics can get their teeth into. But they’re missing the beauty of the film. It is high art, no doubt. But it is also- and this is something I feel that the nouvelle vague usually got spot on- breezy and whimsical and entertaining and pacy and endearing.
If I was to examine the film as a purely intellectual piece, I would focus upon its exploration of conflicting love: when romantic and fraternal love come into conflict; when a person loves two people or two people love a single person; when a person loves another so much that he will endure any heartbreak not to lose her; when being in love becomes fraternal love, etc. I would also look at the film in the context of the time it was made rather than the setting, to see Catherine’s matriarchal dominance as a reflection of the French feminist movement and read her impulsive free spiritedness as a signifier of liberation from male dominance in a wider context. I would consider the way in which Truffaut objectifies Catherine as an ideal woman- and how that idealism includes the capacity for great cruelty and selfishness. I might also consider what the film has to say about the affection between Jules (the German) and Jim (the Frenchman) which is their overriding concern during the war and whether this speaks of a deeper humanist disdain for national identity and patriotism- or is simply a commentary upon the fractious state of Europe during the preceding half a century. I would also wonder about the significance of the breezy nostalgic mood which is interrupted by the harsh realities of a stupid and futile war.
On the other hand, if I was to consider the film technically I would be looking at Truffaut’s choice of camera angles and the fluid style he utilises- which would certainly have been innovative at the time. I would consider the lighting and how this impacts upon the mood of the film- enhancing the breeziness I spoke of earlier. I would be interested to understand more about the decision to move the films narrative (successfully, I may add) at such breathtaking pace and the exclusion of all details not pertaining to the main thrust of the story. I would discuss the success of the narrator as a device to achieve these aims. I would focus upon some of Truffaut’s little conceits- the intermittent freeze-frames which say to the viewer “I want you to remember this just as it is now” and especially the visual objectification of Jeanne Moreau.
But you know what, pretentious little twat though I may tend to be, I ignore all of these things and just focus on the beautiful whimsical representation of deep affectionate relationships centred around impulsiveness and the desire to be happy. And I really enjoy Jules et Jim on that basis. 8/10