A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Jules and Jim (François Truffaut, 1962)

Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) is insane, and Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) love each other more than either of them loves Catherine. That's obviously a reductive way of looking at the movies' most famous ménage à trois, but it's my takeaway from the most recent viewing of Truffaut's masterpiece. Why is Catherine insane? one should ask. Because she's a free spirit trapped in a woman's body when freedom for women can be glimpsed but not fully achieved. Note how liberated she becomes when she dresses as a man, smoking a stogie (pace Dr. Freud, but sometimes a cigar is more than just a cigar) and providing a light for a strange man outside of a pissoir. And at no time do Jules and Jim find her more sexually desirable, I think. Naturally, she marries Jules, the more repressed of the two, and finds further liberation by cheating on him rather than falling into the socially respectable roles of wife and mother. As for the "bromance" of Jules and Jim, that too skirts societal disapproval: The narrator tells us that their friendship was much talked about. Even separated by a war that puts them on opposing sides, each worries that he may find himself killing the other. But they survive, only to find Catherine testing their friendship. That it survives the test until Catherine kills one of them is the film's deepest irony. And Catherine is never able to find the freedom she seeks, even after death: Her desire to have her ashes scattered to the winds is thwarted by "the regulations," as the narrator (Michel Subor) tells us. It is, of course, one of the great films, made so by Moreau's tremendous performance, by Georges Delerue's score, and by Raoul Coutard's cinematography, but most of all by Truffaut's direction and (with Jean Gruault) endlessly fascinating script. Even Jules and Catherine's daughter, Sabine, is perfectly presented: Sabine Haudepin is one of the least affected, least annoying child performers ever to appear on screen.