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JULES ET JIM (1962)
Mar
30
7:00 PM19:00

JULES ET JIM (1962)

JULES ET JIM | Dir. François Truffaut | 1962 | 105 min
Presented in French with English subtitles
*10th Anniversary Screening selection

When François Truffaut was a twenty-three-year-old film critic, in 1955, he read an autobiographical first novel by a seventy-four-year-old writer, Henri-Pierre Roché. “The book overwhelmed me,” he later recalled, “and I wrote: If I ever succeed in making films, I will make Jules and Jim.” Six years later—after constantly rereading and even partly memorizing Roché’s novel—he more than redeemed that promise. Sixties audiences didn’t merely see his movie. They wanted to live it.

Jules and Jim begins in Paris before World War I and introduces us to two aspiring writers. Jules is a shy, diminutive Austrian (Oskar Werner is all pained charm), a born onlooker who masks his aggressiveness as passivity. He can’t get the girls, but his friend Jim can. A lanky, not-quite-dashing Frenchman (played with melting standoffishness by Henri Serre), Jim is a Left Bank Don Quixote to Jules’s Sancho Panza. When we first meet them, they are living out a genial but somewhat lackluster bohemianism, brimming with talk about writing and women. But for all their love of books, these pals come alive only when they meet the magnificently desirable and dangerous Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). She marries the stolid Jules, who’s too low-key and dull to keep her, and becomes the lover of Jim, who refuses to subject himself to her will.

Although the film is named for the men, its animating force is Catherine, a creature both utterly timeless (Jules and Jim first see her visage in a photo of a Greek statue) and forever changing: at different points, she plays the roles of Charlie Chaplin and street tough, vamp and doting mother. Passionate and iconoclastic, she is, in fact, the only true free spirit among them. Just as the men put their talent into their art, so she puts her genius into living—or perhaps into claiming for herself the reckless male freedoms that women have been traditionally denied. Time and again, she literally dresses herself in the garb of masculinity.

On paper, the mercurial Catherine seems an implausibly grandiose con­ception, a woman both giddy and tragic, protofeminist and male-dominated, driven by Eros and Thanatos. But as played by Moreau, a pop-eyed siren with the ferocity of Bette Davis and the kitty-cat wiles of Tuesday Weld, Catherine becomes one of the modern movies’ triumphant characterizations—the anima as autocrat. Whether playing with vitriol or jumping into the Seine, she elevates capriciousness to an existential principle. When Jim says he understands her, she replies, “I don’t want to be understood.” And this is absolutely true. The movie lives in the shuddering distance between Catherine’s imperious, doomed physicality and the two men’s shifting perceptions of her, perceptions that rearrange but never destroy their glowing friendship.

Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote that the greatest art is about the passing of time. Jules and Jim flies by like a dream, suffused with a sense of life’s evanes­cence. As the characters grow older, and perhaps wiser, we become aware of how much has been lost—loss of love, loss of innocence, loss of the marvelously lamplit bohemian past to the searchlight horror of Nazism. An intimate melan­choly pervades the movie’s voice-over narration, which adores the characters’ brave inquiry into love’s possibilities but is also wryly aware of the relief that accompanies the end of such inquiries. As critic Andrew Sarris once wrote, Jules and Jim celebrates “the sweet pain of the impossible and the magnificent failure of an ideal.”

From the beginning, the film itself was treated as a magnificent success, with Truffaut winning praise from such personal heroes as Jean Cocteau and Jean Renoir; he even received a gushing letter from the seventy-five-year-old Helen Hessel, the real-life, Seine-jumping model for Catherine, who told him he’d captured “the essence of our intimate emotions.” Such accolades, however, didn’t keep France’s Commission de contrôle des films from forbidding viewers under the age of eighteen from seeing Jules and Jim because of its “immoral character”—a decision that would be replicated in many other countries. From our present-day vantage point, when nudie sex scenes are de rigueur on cable TV, such a decision may seem incredible. But this was 1962, and while the New Wave may have been reinventing cinema, French censors weren’t ready to reinvent bourgeois morality.

Perhaps a bit naively for a Young Turk, Truffaut was shocked by the ban, but he clutched at the nearest straw. The president of the commission, Henry de Ségogne, told him that the board might reconsider if he could gather a series of laudatory statements from luminaries. Truffaut set about doing just that, writing to Cocteau, Renoir, and Alain Resnais requesting their support. Still, despite this illustrious backing, the commission refused to reverse its original decision, condemning itself to a tiny corner in the Pantheon of the Square, while this supposedly immoral movie would one day be shown in high school classes.

Truffaut was not yet thirty when he made this tale of triangular desire, and decades later it’s still astonishing that one so youthful could be so open­hearted, so willing to give everyone’s motives and passions their due. But if Jules and Jim casts a mature eye on the limits of freedom (by the end, everything seems uncannily, but satisfyingly, preordained), it remains indelibly a young man’s movie. It’s a lyrical joyride propelled by leaping, elliptical edits, Georges Delerue’s sublimely evocative score (one of the most memorable in film his­tory), and Raoul Coutard’s ecstatic photography, which helps underscore Truffaut’s visual ideas about the great circle of life. At one point, Coutard’s camera follows a young woman in a bar, does a 360 degree pan, and winds up watching Jules draw another girl’s face on the surface of a round table.

Almost every scene is shot through with such casual stylistic brilliance. Yet what audiences have always loved about this movie isn’t simply its technical brio but its emotional warmth, its embrace of a world in which tragedy is forever playing hopscotch with farce. Jules and Jim is a movie that enters viewers’ lives like a lover—a masterpiece you can really get a crush on. Criterion

Awards
1962 MAR DEL PLATA FILM FESTIVAL - WINNER (Best Director | François Truffaut), NOMINATION (Best Film, International Competition | François Truffaut)
1963 BAFTA AWARDS - NOMINATION (Best Film from any Source, France., Best Foreign Actress | Jeanne Moreau, France.)
1963 BODIL AWARDS - WINNER (Best European Film (Bedste europæiske film) | François Truffaut, Director)
1963 ITALIAN NATIONAL SYNDICATE OF FILM JOURNALISTS - WINNER (Silver Ribbon, Best Foreign Director (Regista del Miglior Film Straniero) | François Truffaut)

Jules et Jim is our 10th Anniversary selection, to celebrate the past 10 years of programming and for years to come.

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CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940)
Dec
10
1:00 PM13:00

CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940)

Jimmy MacDonald (Dick Powell), a low-paid clerk at the Baxter Coffee Company in New York City, is a habitual contest participant, always trying his luck at lotteries, drawings, and slogan contests. His favorite daydream is to one day win the top cash prize for his efforts so he can move out of his noisy tenement apartment on the East Side and marry his girlfriend, Betty (Ellen Drew). Suddenly, Jimmy's fortune changes drastically when he is informed his jingle has won the $25,000 grand prize in his rival company's Maxford Coffee competition. Little does he realize that his sudden fame is completely bogus; it was an elaborate joke engineered by three fellow office workers. But before he learns the truth, he goes on a massive buying spree for his poor neighborhood, compounding the financial problems he will soon be facing.

Christmas in July (1940) was Preston Sturges' second feature film and was completed just before the director's career entered the fast track to success with his subsequent feature, The Lady Eve (1941). In many ways the film shares key similarities to other Sturges' films with its sharp satire of American materialism and its love for eccentric characters, but the tone is closer to the movies of Frank Capra and straddles a fine line between sunny optimism and hopeless pessimism.

Christmas in July celebrates an American dream that is still popular today - that of winning a fortune and discovering overnight fame. But as experienced by the naive Jimmy MacDonald, the price of success is an ambiguous one. His excitement over winning the contest isn't simply about the money; it's about self-worth, something a lot of people lacked in the demoralizing atmosphere of the Depression years. As Jimmy says, "To be poor and unknown one minute, and to be sitting on top of the world the next minute, that's a feeling nobody can ever take away from me." Even more important to Jimmy is the fact that he won the contest for his originality - "You see, I used to think maybe I had good ideas...but now I know it!" Of course, the irony is that Jimmy doesn't yet realize that the congratulations telegram is a hoax. Nevertheless, his unlikely winning jingle for the Maxford Coffee Company - "If you can't sleep, it's not the coffee, it must be the bunk" - has a resonance no one could have foreseen.

Sturges began adapting Christmas in July for the screen while working on his debut feature, The Great McGinty(1940). The script was based on his original three act play, A Cup of Coffee, which was originally purchased by Universal; it was the project that first brought Sturges to Hollywood. Luckily, Paramount was able to secure the rights from their rival studio and Sturges went to work writing specific parts for his favorite characters actors, an ensemble that included William Demarest, Harry Rosenthal, Byron Fougler, Arthur Hoyt, Franklin Pangborn, Jimmy Conlin and numerous others. For leading actor Dick Powell, Christmas in July was quite a departure from his usual roles in that he wasn't required to croon any songs. While he still played a variation of the happy-go-lucky chorus boy that was his trade in the Warner Brothers musicals, he also revealed a flip side to that character, one who could sink into the blackest despair over his poverty-ridden existence.

During the course of its filming, Christmas in July went through various titles changes - from A Cup of Coffee to The New Yorkers to Something to Shout About before its final naming. The filming went fairly smoothly, but according to writer Rob Edelman in MaGill's Survey of Cinema, "Paramount...went to great expense to produce a still photograph that hangs in a wall moulding in Betty Casey's apartment. The shot is of Hester and Essex Streets circa 1900. A group in period dress (including character actors Richard Denning, William Frawley, Jean Cagney, Lillian Cornell, and Douglas Kennedy, who are not in the film) is pictured in and around a gasoline buggy. It took an entire morning to shoot and cost Paramount a day's salary for more than a score of actors and technicians. Also, Sturges uses an Alfred Hitchcock trick when he plays a bit part in his film, as a man having his shoes shined at the beginning."

The director did run into a little trouble with the censors at the Hays Office over some dialogue in his script of Christmas in July. They demanded that several lines be omitted or revised; "God rest his soul" (uttered in the film by an Irish mother) was changed by Code administrator Joseph I. Breen to "May his dear soul rest in peace" and "schlemiel" was substituted with "schnook" in an attempt to avoid what is now known as racial profiling. Sturges did manage to have the last laugh though. In Madcap: The Life of Preston Sturges, author Donald Spoto wrote that the director managed "to retain an amusing shot in the early part of the film, an intercut from Powell and (Ellen) Drew on the rooftop to two snuggling rabbits in a corner cage. This particular visual allusion had been attempted by filmmakers and rejected by censors so often that virtually no director bothered to try to include it any longer. At the preview screening, however, someone nodded and it remained, to the censors' later chagrin."

When Christmas in July went into general release, it was warmly received by critics and audiences alike. The Hollywood Reporter labeled it "a ten-strike for Sturges as a writer-director." Time magazine wrote, "As director, Sturges converted this unpretentious plot into a happy, slightly noisy comedy with a Chaplinesque background of pathos....A good dramatist, Sturges kept his characters credible by the simple but neglected technique of letting them act like people." While Christmas in July is just a warm-up for Sturges' best comedies, it strikes a wonderful balance between the director's urban sophistication and his compassion for the "common man." 


by Jeff Stafford, TCM
 

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