Monday, January 14, 2008

Jules et Jim

Long after seeing it, I hazard to review it – it's not an easy film to review, to judge. Most of the times you tend to get absorbed in the film's story, flow with the emotions, and judge accordingly – but not so with Jules et Jim (in English, Jules and Jim). Another one of those French films which keep you at a distance, which is in fact quite surprising given the warmth with which Truffaut has shot it, a warmth I disapproved of when I first saw the film.

I prefer to call it the film of the butterfly. My definition of course regarding a "butterfly" is different from Elizabeth Taylor's Butterfly 8 – not the girl who flits from one man to another in vapidness, in search of giving meaning to her life, in search of a looking glass when finally she can look at herself and relax, no, not this definition. The butterfly is so independent, so wilful, so intelligent - all the flowers are but slaves to her, ready to give their pollen to her, ready to unravel their choicest of juices, only for her. She is the queen, how do you expect her to be "faithful"? The word "faithful" itself when applied to her misfits. A man who can be her equal, who she cannot be bored with, such wit, charm, intelligence, kindness, and understanding - probably both Jules and Jim have these combined together, but maybe no single man can have.

It's a beautiful story, that reminded me of Thomas Hardy's long story, "A Pair of Blue Eyes" (though Hardy has stretched the point a little too far, maybe in zeal of experimentation). It is also an interesting study of shades of personalities. On one side is the quiet, reserved, more intelligent, kind, and considerate Jules the writer (Oskar Werner), but who lacks the spark that usually attracts a woman, or upholds her interest – he is too much like a curled up cat in front of a good fire. On the other side is Jim (Henri Sierre), lanky and awkward in figure, but vivacious, having a way with women, flirtatious, but ready to play second fiddle when he realizes that Jules his friend loves the same woman he does – Jeanne Moreau performing brilliantly her role of Cathy. It is only when Cathy is not able to have her way with someone, she could pine for that person. So when Jim, after the ménage à trois arrangement arranged by Jules in hope of retaining Cathy also collapses, distances himself, Cathy is distraught, nevertheless carrying on other affairs. For her, each moment is to be lived, has to have something for her, some joy or sadness for her – she can’t take it when the child by Jim’s dead, Jim seems not to care for her or the dead child, and there’s no more “fun” anywhere, with Jules in her servility for life and no challenge there.

I don’t know why Truffaut had that girl in the film, at the start and then at the end, who used to flirt with everyone, and mimic a train engine all through. But what it did seem to me, she was another Cathy. She had her springiness and stupid mimicry of an engine with which men could be so easily enamoured, Cathy had her ready wit, her resourcefulness, and her illusions of invincibility – which finally lead her to the premature end of a gloriously lived life, a life always tried to be lived on her own terms. Both die – one marries an undertaker and her will is defeated, finally subdued, the other does so more physically rather than see herself with a broken will, with patchy, fragmented desires.

Yet, I was disappointed from the film, primarily Truffaut’s direction and how he has visualized the film. The one thing really good that he has done is that he has given full play to all three of his major actors, especially Jeanne Moreau; but there are several other things I am not so enthusiastic about. Granted French films or literature are witty by habit, but the wit part was overdone in the film. Let Moreau have had all the witty scenes, but if the commentator behind is also putting his spoke in the wheel, the story tries to become a farce. It’s such a lovely story, with so much feeling, then why introduce a farcicial element? Through wit when you ask sharp questions every now and then, when you reflect on something philosophically now and again, you begin to cease to impress the viewer, to impact the viewer, and finally you begin to freeze-frame the viewer. My other cause of concern was the extraordinary warmth in the film; yes, Jules, Jim, and Cathy are always good friends, in spite of the tensions between them, but yes, the tensions are there, isn’t that so? How could you have so much warmth in the atmosphere? The best illustration is probably when Cathy sings “Le Tourbillon de la vie” (“Life’s whirlpool of days,” a beautiful song) – everyone is so uncomfortable, even Cathy who is only singing like a cat purring, yet why is the lighting so comfortable? Why is everything so evenly lit, such a lack of shadows, why is everything like they are all gathered for a comfortable tea? Yes, they are, but each one’s mind has something on it – and when the actors, the good actors always, don’t show it too much by way of acting (otherwise it would be melodrama, a Hindi film), you’ve got to back it up imperceptibly by some other means in the viewer’s mind, you can’t let the viewer also be comfortable.

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