Francois Truffaut seems to question many relationship conventions in Jules et Jim (1962), of which, "Can we love more than one person at a time?" "Can a woman love as freely as a man?" "Can we overcome jealousy?" and most importantly, "Are bros really before hoes?"
In this messy intrigue of ménage à trois, Jules and Jim's friendship are put to test when Catherine shows up to ruin the frat party. At one of their first outings as a trio in such the cool girl of Victorian era fashion, she dresses up in menswear and calls herself Thomas. She ends up fooling a passerby into giving her a light to prove she is one of the boys, but not before the camera pans to her pulling off a silk stocking just before the transformation. Both Jules and Jim are smitten of course--she seems to be the girl of their dreams: fun, feminine, and so full of manly bravado,
Then the war happens and Jules is sent back to fight for Austria while Jim fights for France. Jules (who is by now dating Catherine) writes her adoring love letters while also mentioning how much he's afraid he might end up killing Jim by accident (the two countries were at war). After the fact, Jules marries Catherine and Jim takes up with one girl after another, all the while secretly harboring feelings for Catherine. When the trio reunites again (now with Jules & Catherine's little daughter as well), it is like nothing has changed. The four frolic happily on the beach together and for a while, "The sky seemed so close."
The story takes a turn when Jules finally convinces Jim to hook up with Catherine because it's worse to lose her, but then Jim gets jealous that she hooks back up with Jules, her husband. Meanwhile, Jules tells Jim that Catherine has a third lover, a guitar-playing Albert from down the street. He is Catherine's most current lover in her succession of lovers since Jules married her.
Confused yet? I wouldn't be surprised if this is confusing even for Maury Povich. Not surprisingly, it all ends tragically, but I won't spoil it for you. Do watch it for yourself. It's available for rent on Amazon for $3.99.
While watching this film, I couldn't help but realize how terrible Truffaut must have thought of women. Both male characters are fully developed with moments of great tenderness and vulnerability between them, but Catherine is something of a beautiful two-bit narcissist. From an auteur as great as Francois Truffaut, I would expect a little more empathy for the opposite sex. Catherine isn't the only passive woman in the film--there's the girl at the bar who hooks up with strangers for sleeping accommodations with her cheap cigarette trick and Jim's girlfriend who doesn't seem to have any agency over his philandering. I can't even remember her character's name!
In spite of its shortcomings, Jules et Jim is still a piece of art. It's Francois Truffaut, after all! I have much respect for him as an artist, a visionary who created groundbreaking continuous shots in The 400 Blows and infused Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 with cinematic life. It's just that with the lens of a viewer in 2018, I question some of Truffaut's character choices. Why are we made to feel sorry for Jules when it was he who set up the whole tryst? He's a pathetic man! And was Jim really all that innocent that Catherine could seduce him? As memory serves, he was the one who idolized Catherine all those years, not to mention he kissed her first. All she did was reciprocate.
Catherine, I think, is the real victim in all of this. A woman who was played by the men who she thought loved her. She didn't know Jules knew about her infidelities. She didn't know Jules encouraged Jim to go after her. Once she fell in love with Jim (and I believe she really did), she didn't know that Jim kept confiding in Jules for advice on how to deal with her (that's two against one!). You knew what you were getting into, bro!
I don't deny that Catherine's character is a narcissist. But so is Jim, who had a girlfriend back in Paris. So is Jules, who didn't want to let Catherine go so he arranged the entire affair. Maybe both should have just left her alone in the first place.
A quote from Fitzgerald'sThe Great Gatsby comes to mind. It is from another passive woman character: Daisy Fay Buchanan recounting having just given birth, "[The nurse] told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, 'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
In the end of Truffaut's ménage à trois, nobody's happy. Though it does make for good cinema.
Bits & Pieces
A place for experimentation, a place for pieces unpolished and unpublished, a place to work out thoughts and ideas for larger collections. Typos aplenty. Enjoy (or not).