Both Jules and Jim live the bohemian lifestyle in Paris during the turn of the century. They appreciate poetry, art, cafes, and women. They get together to talk about philosophy alongside personal problems. You see, Jules wants a woman to love. But every woman he encounters in Paris does not meet his high standards. Either they are flighty (like the steam engine girl) or not intelligent enough (like the many whores he visits). But Jim, he has a girl. A girl who is faithful and loving and boring. He wants excitement. Both of them find what they are looking for in one woman: Catherine. She is giving, outrageous, spontaneous, emotional, free-spirited, and loving. But she is ultimately destructive.
One of the big arguments concerning this film is whether Catherine can be seen as empowered or not. On the surface she seems to be. She is not beholden to one man even after she has a baby with one. She casually sleeps with one man after another but expect it to not change the dynamic of their friendship. In one iconic scene, she dresses up as a man and races the two protagonists. But once you dig deeper into her character, you can see that she is more flawed than her two male companions. She is, to put it simply, crazy. She doesn’t know what she wants most of the time, she uses sex more as revenge than actual satisfaction, she doesn’t seem to have any real redeeming qualities other than her striking beauty, and she expresses her emotions with such a wild abandonment that she hurts everyone she comes into contact with. She is sort of the opposite of an empowered woman, if you understand an empowered woman as a woman who knows what she wants, actively gets what she wants, and is not made to be a trophy that men win.
Although I have put down this character as being retroactive to the feminist movement, she still exists as a fascinating, if erratic character. As an audience member, I was drawn to her like the two men were. Her need to be at the center of attention, to always be loved by which ever man she is pursuing is desperately endearing. Her scenes where she is happy are some of the most beautiful scenes in the film. This of course includes the scene where they are making idiot faces to the table. That is one of more comical scenes in the whole film.
In this film you can see ever so subtly Truffaut evolve and mature as a filmmaker. He is less afraid of his expressionistic tendencies which gives this film an endearing immediacy despite taking place over several decades. He uses shots that are more daring, shots that would never have worked if they were in anybody else’s hands. These include freeze shots of Jeanne Moreau vamping, whip pans, and a play on the iris out at the end of a sequence. Although these techniques exist in his previous films, he uses them in a way that helps to tell the story as opposed to stylistically showing something.
Jules and Jim is an essential movie for a reason. It shows a magnificent director at the height of his creativity, sparks intellectual conversations, is awash in iconic scenes and lines, and is simply a great film. My view of this film has evolved as I have evolved and I can say now that although I was naive in the past and hated this film, I have come to love it and appreciate it for the cinematic marvel that it is.