Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jules et Jim

Dir. Francois Truffaut

Love is war. Real love that is. The artificial, simplified, celluloid dreamscapes etched upon the silver screens of popular cinemas are abstractions, distractions and completely void of consciousness. They nullify reality and celebrate the impossible: the perfect love. Real love is full of sieges, surrenders, negotiations, treaties and assassinations. It is not premeditated and each successive battle, although it may try to adhere to universal conventions, obeys no laws. The anarchy of desire rules the ravaged landscape of amour. If a person seeks a visual complement to the desperately complex and entrancing world of real love, the French New Wave is one of the better places to start. Between Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and Francois Truffaut the pervasive, subterranean universe of love and its relation to sex, meaning and existence came about as close as it will ever come to having a distinct definition. The level of clarity and poetic truth they achieved, alongside a myriad of other notable New Wave filmmakers, through the vital and experimental French cinematic movement is simply unparalleled. While Godard's Breathless may be seen as the pinnacle of the movement, among its most all encompassing and highly affecting pieces is Truffaut's Jules et Jim, a sweeping epic and a mutinous piece of romantic film making.

Jules et Jim stuns the senses. It races along with all the nervous energy of young love. Characteristic of the New Wave movement, the film is technically astounding, utilizing enough dynamic film techniques that it is, in and of itself, like a textbook on ocular and auditory stimulation and satisfaction. Whereas in the presence of more concrete subject matter, these techniques would be distracting, here they compliment the marvelous displays of confusion and mixed emotions by Truffaut's expert cast. The film plants the viewer squarely in the middle of a love triangle whose borders and angles are constantly shifting. There is Jules (Oskar Werner), the introverted Austrian who forms a friendship with Jim (Henri Serre), a French romantic, and then, of course, there is the girl: Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) who both Jules and Jim fall in love with after marveling her statued doppelganger in a public garden. They are entranced by the ambiguous smile that both possess. Jules and Catherine marry and, although they are resigned to being content, neither is ever quite satisfied with the relationship. Catherine is noted for her capricious disdain for the ordinary. Stability mocks her capacity to cope with tragedy and at times she forces drama upon herself in order to extricate excitement from the tenuous relationships she has formed with the men in her life, namely Jules and Jim. She falls in and out of love, gaining and losing trust and appreciation, until Jules no longer feels he can love her and Jim can no longer tolerate being used as an object of her ardent, sometimes inexplicable, fervor. In the end she takes her own life along with Jim's and leaves to Jules the sadly satisfying manifestation of the loneliness he has felt for years.

There is a conversation in the film that is very appealing to me. It takes place after Jules and Jim return from their respective time spent on opposing sides of World War I. In a field the two are accompanied by Albert, one of Catherine's many temporary lovers, and they discuss the war. During the conversation Jules imparts this bit of wisdom: “What's revolting about war is that it deprives man of his own individual battle”. For all the horrible grandeur of world war, one of the great debilitating effects is a distinct lack of personal initiative. One becomes a part of a nationalistic crusade and is mostly powerless to matter in either a great facility or, conversely, to be void of use. All movements and actions are controlled by invisible and highly exterior motivations, of which a soldier only understands the smallest degree. This war narrative embodies the film. In war, as in love, it is best not to have your intentions be completely known. A certain amount of secrecy is necessary for both the purpose of sanity and seduction. In Jules et Jim, Catherine is the great temptress and prize. While no acts of physical violence occur between the two friends (with the exception of their friendly brawling) a greater psychological battle is being waged. There is a surprising lack of malice between the two friends, as both want what is best for the other. This, however, is the mystery, not only of the film but of all bipartisan endeavors. What is best for both parties? Where are the lines to be drawn? Who stakes a claim to what territory? And how long until one or both groups become unsatisfied with the division of capital and land, and contention begins again?

When the lives of three people (the two warring combatants and the “prize”) become entangled by equivocal amounts of pleasure, pain and manic love the necessity for conquest or rational colloquy becomes apparent. What does not reveal itself until much later is how a perfect equilibrium between two battling factions can never be fully reached so long as both desire the complete and unquestioned claim to victory. The only solutions lie in the completely abandonment of proclivity or total annihilation; both of which underscore the need for a desertion of interest. As if this scenario weren't complicated enough the “territory”, over which Jules and Jim strive for sole propriety, has a will of its own, like an island that roams aimlessly about the sea, attaching itself to whichever large, exotic land mass it comes across; leaving just as quickly as it arrived. The love-war over a women who does not know what she wants is never over until her ashes are scattered on the winds.

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