Jules and Jim (1962)
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital Monaural
The Criterion Collection, $39.95

“There’s an idea of romance, romance as a better world, an unencumbered world where people don’t work. They are sensitive people; they are curious people who travel the world, have their sensations and share them.” So says professor Robert Stam about the mythic appeal of the characters in François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim. Stam’s commentary is one of the many supplements on The Criterion Collection’s excellent DVD of this adored film of the French Nouvelle Vague.

In Truffaut’s adaptation of Henri-Pierre Roche’s autobiographical meditation on the nature of love and friendship, the titular protagonists (played by Oskar Werner and Henri Serre, respectively) are aspiring writers in Paris in 1912. When they meet the free-spirited, “modern” Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), they both instantly fancy her because of her resemblance to a beguiling statue. Soon the two best friends become three, sharing their passion for art, culture and conversation. Their untraditional bond continues for many years, and the three find ways to make their romantic obsession last.

To help capture this intense and ultimately doomed relationship, Truffaut reteamed with cinematographer Raoul Coutard (Breathless, Weekend, Z), with whom he had previously worked on Shoot the Piano Player. Coutard’s inventive use of the anamorphic format gives Jules and Jim a memorable panoramic dimension, often with unpredictable, careening camera movements. Coutard has said he made use of natural light whenever possible, and when working in the film’s many tight interiors, he used only very small lights that could easily bounce to

illuminate detail. Although Truffaut and Coutard carefully blocked most

of the scenes, they are cleverly photographed to suggest a freewheeling, improvisational style.

Wellspring/Fox Lorber released a satisfactory DVD of Jules and Jim a while ago, but this new, 16x9-enhanced transfer gives the film a smoother, more dynamic life on the small screen. Although minor scratches and light fluctuations are occasionally evident in Criterion’s transfer, when it is compared side by side with the earlier DVD, this representation of Coutard’s monochrome images is much sharper and cleaner. The grays and blacks are vivid and have a distinctive tonality, even in the darkest sequences. The audio is presented in a fine, well-rounded monaural track that eliminates much of the age-induced hiss that occasionally plagued Wellspring/Fox Lorber’s DVD.

An array of diverse supplements accompanies this crisp new transfer. Disc one of the two-disc set includes two feature-length audio commentaries, the first of which features Truffaut collaborators as well as film professor Annette Insdorf; this commentary track appeared on Criterion’s 1993 laserdisc of the film. The second commentary track features Jeanne Moreau and Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana. Disc one also offers excerpts from the 1985 documentary The Key to Jules and Jim, which includes fascinating interviews with the children of the real-life counterparts of Jules, Jim and Catherine. Finally, there’s a seven-minute 1966 excerpt from French television entitled Truffaut on Roche, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.

Disc two offers Truffaut on Truffaut, which includes more than 100 minutes of interviews that Truffaut and his collaborators have given about Jules and Jim on French and American television and radio over the years. Also included are excellent videotaped interviews with Coutard and co-screenwriter Jean Gruault; a collection of Truffaut’s letters; script pages and advertising art; and a brief, engaging analysis of the film by Stam, a professor of cinema studies at New York University, and Dudley Andrew, a professor of comparative literature and film studies at Yale University. The dense booklet that accompanies this exceptional DVD features reprints of articles written by Truffaut, film critic Pauline Kael and others.

Jules and Jim endures as a genuine cinematic landmark, a captivating romantic fable, and a portrait of a time when filmmaking was doing something new and exciting. The picture’s lasting power is well described by Coutard, who observes, “After a Mozart concert, the silence is still Mozart, and here, the silence that follows fin is still Jules and Jim.”

— Kenneth Sweeney

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© 2005 American Cinematographer.