Catherine: “You said, ‘I love you.’ I said, ‘Wait.’ I was about to say, ‘Take me.’ You said, ‘Go away.’
How could I have waited this long to recommend a François Truffaut film – one of the most influential directors, and one of the founders of the oh so important French New Wave movement? You have to see one of his films – it’s imperative if you have never. Most people would recommend his autobiographical debut film “400 Blows.” I would encourage you to start with “Jules et Jim” (1961) which in my opinion is one of the sexiest movies. I don’t think I can ever get tired of seeing it. It’s genuinely inebriating and perfectly conceived – and to boot it has the screen siren Jeanne Moreau as the unattainable object of desire. Her Catherine is one of the most memorable roles in cinematic history. And it has one of the most iconic lines in any language – “Pas celle-la, Jim.” (“Not this one, Jim.”)
There’s one scene that is so utterly beautiful – that captures everything I love about Truffaut and in particular movies. It takes place early in the film, and the men are just getting to know Catherine. She dresses in a pair of baggy pants – and a big cable knit sweater. A big checkered cap contains all of her flowing blond tresses. Jim suggests that she needs a mustache and draws it on her. She has a cigar in her mouth. She wants to pretend that she’s a man, and she sets out to prove that she can get away with it. Ironically, she’s more womanly. It’s erotic. She gets ahead of Jules and Jim – and dares them to a race on a Parisian bridge. Of course, she sprints ahead. In a full shot with her in the middle we see all three running – ebulliently – towards us. It cuts to a close-up of her face – her features being caressed by the wind – and the grid going past her. It visually captures their relationship. The exhilaration. Le tourbillon. L’amour. It’s a fleeting moment.
In the late 50s, Jean Luc Goddard, Chaude Chabrol, Truffaut and others rejected traditional filmmaking conventions and launched one of the most influential movements in cinema history – La Nouvelle Vague. In very generalized terms, they felt that the dramatic context of the film should be the determining factor in its creation – and explored new approaches to editing, narrative structure and filmmaking techniques.
Based on a novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, the film takes place before, during and right after World War I – in France, Austria and Germany. It follows the close friendship between the introvert Austrian writer Jules and the outgoing Frenchman Jim who at the start of the film are immersed in the Bohemian life in Paris. “People called them Don Quixote and Sancho Panza,” reads Jim from a planned book. “And rumors circulated about their unusual friendship. They ate together in small restaurants, and each splurge on the best cigars for the other.” The opening scene documents, in an exciting fast moving montage, their times together. You’re immediately drawn in to their lifestyle and you have to marvel at the editing.
They’re shown a photograph of the bust of a goddess with an enigmatic smile. Impetuously, they travel to the Adriatic Sea to see the ancient statue in person. Eventually, they meet Catherine who has the look of the effigy – and they’re both transfixed. She’s like no other woman they’ve met before. “She invents her life every moment,” she defiantly says about herself. And to prove her point she jumps into the Seine river. “Is she cut out to be a wife and mother?” wonders Jim. “I’m afraid she’ll never be happy on this earth. She’s a vision for all, perhaps not meant for any one man alone.”
What follows – through the years – is an intoxicating love triangle – where one of them marries Catherine – and they both continue loving her while continuing their friendship.
Visually this is a stunner. Truffaut captures the exhilaration of the times and their relationship – the ebbs and flows of the impossibility of love. And he bends and plays with cinema – using freeze frames, jump cuts, long takes, crane shots. It’s all playful, wistful and tragic. The score by Georges Delerue is superb – one of the best ever at the movies. He uses can-cans, waltzes and wistful longing melancholic themes. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
And Jeanne Moreau. Oh-la-la.
Jules: “But she’s a queen. Let me be frank. Catherine’s not especially beautiful or intelligent or sincere, but she’s a real woman. It’s that woman whom you and I love, whom all men desire.”
Available to stream on HBO Max, Kanopy and The Criterion Channel. Available to rent on Apple TV, iTunes and Amazon Prime.
Adaptation by François Truffaut and Jean Gruault
Based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché
Directed by François Truffaut
About Cinematographer Raoul Coutard
Coutard stumbled into cinema by chance. He was born in Paris into a communist family, and had originally planned to study chemistry, but in 1945 he joined up with the French Far East Expeditionary Corps and participated in the war in French Indochina. There, he learned his craft as a military stills photographer and established himself as a talented photojournalist, becoming head of photography at the magazine Indochine Sud-Est Asiatique and freelancing for Paris Match, Radar and Life. He also accompanied French ethnologists on expeditions, photographing in colour (unusual for the time) the different landscapes and peoples of the region that he grew to love. After working on a number of official documentaries in Laos and Vietnam, he was approached by the war correspondent Pierre Schoendoerffer to shoot a feature film in Afghanistan called “La Passe du Diable” (“The Devil’s Pass,” 1958). Coutard had never used a film camera before and later claimed he only agreed to the commission because he assumed he would be shooting production stills. So began his film-making career and a long collaboration with Schoendoerffer that included “La 317ème Section” (“317th Platoon,” 1965) and the lavish navy drama “Le Crabe-Tambour” (“The Drummer Crab,” 1977), for which Coutard was awarded a César. It was Schoendoerffer who introduced Coutard to the film producer Georges de Beauregard, who, in turn, introduced him to Godard in the late 50s. Throughout this period, Coutard also collaborated with François Truffaut on landmark New Wave films such as “Tirez sur le Pianiste” (“Shoot the Piano Player,” 1960), “Jules et Jim” (1962), and “La Mariée Etait en Noir” (“The Bride Wore Black,” 1968). With the exception of the last of these, where they struggled over the photography, this was a far more straightforward collaboration. For “Jules et Jim,” which integrated newsreel footage, freeze-frames, photographic stills, panning shots and wipes, Coutard used the latest technology to create a beautifully fluid style. He worked equally successfully with, among others, Jacques Demy (“Lola,” 1961), “Jean Rouch” (“Chronique d’un Eté,” 1961) and “Costa-Gavras” (“Z,” 1969).
The 70s were, by comparison, rather lean years, but by this stage Coutard was also directing. “Hoa-Binh” (1970) revolved around a key episode of the war in Indochina, focusing on the effects on local children. It won the Prix Jean Vigo and received an Academy Award nomination for best foreign language film in 1971. It was later followed by the action thriller “La Légion Saute sur Kolwezi” (“Operation Leopard,” 1980), an account of the French military intervention in Zaire, and, in the same vein, “SAS à San Salvador” (“Terminate With Extreme Prejudice,” 1982). In each case, Coutard’s director of photography was Georges Liron, who had been his camera operator during his collaboration with Godard and with whom he served as co-cinematographer on Peter Lennon’s 1967 documentary, “Rocky Road to Dublin.” For this highly controversial study of the state of the Republic of Ireland still under the sway of Gaelic and clerical traditionalism, Lennon chose Coutard because of his free, open style. Coutard was reunited with Godard in 1982 for “Passion,” a film about light and pictorial representation, and the dazzling “Prénom Carmen” (“First Name Carmen,” 1983). The renewed collaboration was set to continue, but what Coutard termed a banal dispute involving Godard’s partner, Anne-Marie Miéville, meant they did not work together again. Nevertheless, Coutard always spoke with immense admiration and affection for Godard. During the 90s, Coutard began working with Philippe Garrel, on films such as “La Naissance de l’Amour” (“The Birth of Love,” 1993) and “Sauvage Innocence” (“Wild Innocence,” 2001), where he returned to the New Wave method of the single take to create a sparse black and white style. His three films for the director Guillaume Nicloux achieved a similar detachment and rigour, notably “Faut Pas Rire du Bonheur” (1994) with its sombre long takes of a nocturnal Paris. Coutard’s innovations in style across around 80 highly diverse films (including work for television) were rapidly assimilated, and his influence can be seen in the work of Hollywood cinematographers such as Conrad Hall, László Kovács and Gordon Willis. His greatest legacy is perhaps the personal example he set of adventure and adaptability. An extremely modest and private man, he was most proud of the international award he received in 1997 from the American Society of Cinematographers. (theguardian.com)
About Composer Georges Delerue
Born on March 12, 1925 in Roubaix, Georges Delerue began his musical studies at the town’s Conservatory with piano, organ, chamber music and harmony classes. He then entered the Conservatory in Paris where he was taught by Henri Busser, Simone Plé-Caussade, Jean Rivier and Darius Milhaud. In 1949 he won the first prize for musical composition, and the First second grand prix de Rome. He took his first steps in music for theatre in 1948, while still a pupil at the Conservatory. He was musical director for Jean Vilar, Raymond Hermantier, Jacques Mauclair and Jean-Marie Serreau, and also worked with Jean-Louis Barrault. He wrote about 140 stage scores, and over 200 film scores for directors such as François Truffaut, Philippe de Broca, Louis Malle, Henri Verneuil, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Huston, Mike Nichols, Fred Zinnemann, George Roy Hill, George Cukor, Oliver Stone, Bruce Beresford. He also wrote for numerous television programmes, and several “Son et Lumière” shows, including the Pyramids, Strasbourg cathedral, the Temple of Philae, Puy du Fou and the Hospices de Beaune.
His catalogue of classical music includes: chamber music works including 2 strings quartets, 1 symphony, 1 sonata for piano and violin, 6 melodies on poems by Paul Eluard, works for guitar, for clarinet and piano, for oboe and piano, and for brass ensemble; orchestral works including 1 concertino for trumpet and string orchestra, 1 concerto for horn and string orchestra, 1 concerto for trombone and string orchestra, 1 symphonie concertante for piano and orchestra, 1 concerto for violin and orchestra, 1 concerto for four guitars and orchestra, 1 concerted movement for orchestra; as well as “Trois Prières pour les Temps de Détresse” for mixed choir, solo baritone and instrumental ensemble, and 9 ballets including “L’Aboyeur” (story by Boris Vian), “Conte Cruel” (story by Philippe Hériat from the novella by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam), “La Leçon” (story by Eugène Ionesco), “The Three Musketeers” (story by Fleming Flindt from the novel by Alexandre Dumas). He also composed two operas : “Le Chevalier de Neige” (book by Boris Vian), “Médis et Alyssio” (book by Micheline Gautron), two chamber operas: “Ariane” (book by Michel Polac), “Une Regrettable Histoire” (book by Boris Vian). He won several awards: an Emmy for “Our World,” the first broadcast in Mondovision, 1967; Gemini Award for “Sword of Gideon,” 1987; 3 Césars in 1979, 1980 and 1981; 1 Oscar in 1979. He was made a Commandeur des Arts et Lettres. (billaudot.com)
About Author Henri-Pierre Roché
Henri-Pierre Roché (1879-1959) was born in Paris. After studying art at the Academie Julian, he became a journalist and art dealer, mixing with the avant-garde artistic set; his friends and acquaintances included the artists Michel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, and in 1905 he introduced Gertrude Stein to Pablo Picasso. In 1916, following his discharge from the French army, Roché went to New York and set up a Dadaist magazine, “The Blind Man,” with Duchamp and the artist Beatrice Wood. It wasn’t until his seventies that he wrote the semi-autobiographical “Jules et Jim” (1953); his second novel, “Les deux anglaises et le continent,” was published in 1956. (penguin.co.uk)
About Director François Truffaut
Truffaut was born into a working-class home. His own troubled childhood provided the inspiration for “Les Quatre Cents Coups” (1959; “The 400 Blows”), a semi-autobiographical study of a working-class delinquent. It is the first of the Antoine Doinel series, tracing its hero’s evolution from an antisocial anguish to a happy and settled domesticity. When it won the best direction prize at the 1959 Cannes film festival, Truffaut was established as a leader of the French cinema’s New Wave—a term for the simultaneous presentation of first feature films by a number of French directors—a tendency that profoundly influenced the rising generation of filmmakers around the world. Outside his art, Truffaut was reticent about his private life, although it is known that he left school at age 14 and worked in a factory before being sent to a reformatory. His interest in the cinema, however, brought him to the attention of critic André Bazin, doyen of the monthly avant-garde film magazine Cahiers du cinéma. After Truffaut enlisted in the military and then was imprisoned for attempting to desert, Bazin helped him secure a discharge and incorporated him into the magazine’s staff. For eight years Truffaut asserted himself as the most truculent critic of the contemporary French cinema, which he considered stale and conventional, and advocated a cinema that would allow the director to write dialogue, invent stories, and, in general, produce a film as an artistic whole in his own style. Thus, he was influential in the cinema world before he actually made a film. Like his leading character in “Baisers volés” (1968; “Stolen Kisses”), another film in the Doinel series, he was expelled from his military service. Again, like Doinel in “Domicile conjugale” (1970; “Bed & Board”), he married and became a father. Truffaut’s initial creative effort, the short piece “Les Mistons” (1958; “The Mischief Makers”), depicted a gang of boys who thoughtlessly persecute two young lovers. It met with sufficient appreciation to facilitate his first feature-length film, “Les Quatre Cents Coups.” An evocation of the adolescent’s pursuit of independence from a staid adult world of conformity and protocol, for which Truffaut evinced a romantic sympathy, the film proved to be one of the most popular New Wave films, especially in England and the United States, where he received an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay.
Two tenderly pessimistic studies in sexual tragedy followed—”Tirez sur le pianiste” (1960; “Shoot the Piano Player”), adapted from a 1956 American crime novel (“Down There by David Goodis”), a genre for which Truffaut displayed great admiration, and “Jules et Jim” (1962). During this time he also made a second short, “Une Histoire d’eau” (1961; “A Story of Water”), a slapstick comedy for which Jean-Luc Godard developed the conclusion…All of his later works…were intensely personal and explored one of two themes: studies in forlorn childhoods—e.g., the Doinel saga and “L’Enfant sauvage” (1970; “The Wild Child”)…Of Truffaut’s features, only “Fahrenheit 451” (1966), a film version of Ray Bradbury’s science-fiction novel, falls outside these categories, though it relates to the American style and the poetic-melodramatic form. Through his production company, “Les Films du Carrosse,” Truffaut co-produced, among other films, Godard’s first feature and Jean Cocteau’s last. His own later films included “La Nuit américaine” (1973; “Day for Night”), for which both his direction and screenplay received Oscar nominations; “Le Dernier Métro” (1980; “The Last Metro”); and “Vivement dimanche” (1983; “Confidentially Yours”)…Two autobiographical books, “Les Films de ma vie” (1975; “The Films of My Life”) and “Truffaut par Truffaut” (1985; “Truffaut by Truffaut”), shed further light on Truffaut’s philosophy and modus operandi. (britannica.com)