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François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim is returning to UK cinemas

A frank exploration of the nature of love and friendship, Jules et Jim (1962) features one of the most famous love triangles in the history of cinema. A romantic roller-coaster of a movie, it’s fast, funny, stylish and affecting all at once. It was a landmark in the emergence of the French New Wave, making Jeanne Moreau an international star.

JULES ET JIM returns to the big screen on 4 February 2022, the second of two BFI Distribution releases of key films by François Truffaut (1932-1984), as part of the BFI’s UK-wide celebration of the film critic-turned-director, who become one of the most influential filmmakers of his generation.

In the bohemian Paris of 1912, two aspiring writers form a close friendship: Jules (Oskar Werner) is a shy, philosophical Austrian, while Jim (Henri Serre) is a debonair Frenchman, confident and successful with women. Both fall for the beautiful, capricious Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), but Jules is the one she chooses to marry. After the Great War – in which Jules and Jim fight on opposite sides – Jim visits his two friends and their young daughter in the Rhine Valley, but the marriage is not what it seems, and Jim soon finds himself embroiled in a complex, turbulent ménage à trois. Catherine yearns for free and passionate love, devoid of jealousy, lies and hypocrisy. As her lovers acknowledge, she is “a vision for all men, not a woman for one”.

JULES ET JIM was adapted from a semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, published without fanfare in 1953 when its author was 75 years old. Truffaut discovered it a couple of years later in a second-hand bookshop while he was still working as a film critic: “I had the feeling that I had before me an example of something the cinema had never managed to achieve: to show two men who love the same woman, in such a way that ‘the public’ are unable to make an emotional choice between the characters, because they are made to love all three of them equally.”

Truffaut and Roché established a close relationship through letters and occasional meetings, discussing the filming of JULES ET JIM and even the casting of Jeanne Moreau, but Roché died in 1959, two years before filming began.

The shooting of his third feature was an emotional experience for the 29-year-old director, who was greatly supported by Jeanne Moreau and inspired by her brilliant performance: “She gave me courage every time I was overcome by doubt.” Raoul Coutard’s dazzling black and white CinemaScope photography takes its cue from the restless Catherine – fluid and constantly inventive – while George Delerue’s enchanting score perfectly reflects the film’s delicate balance of comedy and tragedy. Catherine’s signature song ‘Le Tourbillon de la vie’, with words by Boris Bassiak (who also plays Catherine’s third lover, Albert), became a hit in its own right.

Stylistically and psychologically rich, JULES ET JIM resists conventional categorisation and offers no easy answers. 60 years on, it still radiates an astonishing freshness and vitality. It also remains, in the words of the director himself, “a film which provokes the simple desire to talk about life”.

FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT: FOR THE LOVE OF FILMS is a two-month season at BFI Southbank, running throughout January and February. There is a new collection of ten Truffaut films on BFI Player now, partner seasons at cinemas including Edinburgh Filmhouse and Ciné Lumière, and BFI Blu-ray releases in spring 2022.

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