Set at the beginning of the 20th Century, François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim is a timeless tale about love and friendship that continues to feel fresh and unique over 50 years since its debut. The main reason being the characters behave and interact in more realistic ways than what occurs in most love stories. The Criterion Collection showcases this classic French New Wave film with a satisfying high-definition upgrade.
Following his impressive autobiographical debut of The 400 Blows and the comedic noir of Shoot the Piano Player, Truffaut based Jules and Jim on Henri-Pierre Roché’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. The narrator introduces friends Austrian Jules (Oskar Werner) and Frenchman Jim, two young writers living the Bohemian lifestyle in Paris 1912. Jim does better with the ladies than shy Jules, yet it is he that begins dating Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). During a day out together, the trio race across a bridge with the men chasing after Catherine, a visual metaphor of what’s to come as she controls their relationships as much at they allow her.
After a weekend getaway, Jules asks Catherine to marry and she agrees. Soon after WWI commences, resulting in Jules and Jim being drafted by opposing sides. Each hopes they won’t injure the other, the same sentiment they will have after the war when Jim goes to visit. He finds their marriage over and an opportunity to begin an affair with Catherine, who he has always longed for. However, it is Jules who first suggests the liaison because he is so desperate to keep Catherine around for him and their child Sabine that he’d be willing to have Jim move in and be her lover. As circumstances and feelings between the trio change, it’s compelling to watch how they respond to one another.
While the story and performances would be enough to keep the viewer captivated by Jules and Jim, Truffaut’s direction is outstanding. He keep the proceedings fascinating by playing with the form, making use, for example, of freeze frames, archival footage, and abrupt editing to augment and enhance the telling of this story.
The Blu-ray has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at 2.35:1. In the accompanying booklet, it states “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a 2K Spirit DataCine from the 35mm original camera negative at Digimage in Joinville-le-Pont, France, in consultation with director of photography Raoul Coutard. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered in 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic and sound negative. Both image and sound were restored at Digimage.
The image offers a great spectrum of grays and blacks are solid. On occasion, bright outdoor lights and whites are slightly overexposed. The print looks clean, free of dirt and damage, and sharp for the most part, though the archival footage is expectedly worse for wear including a softer focus. Very fine details can be seen in objects like building textures and the tapestry in Catherine’s apartment.
The audio is available in a French LPCM mono track and there are optional English subtitles. There are no signs of wear or defect to diminish the experience. The dialogue is clear and balanced well with the other elements, and Georges Delerue’s evocative score demonstrates great fidelity.
There are two commentary tracks. Recorded for Criterion in 1992, Truffaut’s Collaborators features actors reading the comments by French-speaking Suzanne Schiffman, co-writer Jean Gruault, and editor Claudine Bouche. Also included is Truffaut scholar Annette Insdorf. Together, they offer an in-depth look at the film and its creation. The other track is from 2000 with actress Jeanne Moreau and film critic Serge Toubiana in French with subtitles. This is more of an inteview of the actresses but is also interesting.
All the video bonus features listed are presented in 1080i. The “True Story” looks at the source material. “Truffaut on Roche” (7 min) finds the director talking about the novel on the October 12, 1966 edition of Bibliotheque de poche. “The Key to Jules and Jim” (31 min) is taken from Thomas Honickel’s documentary Jules and Jim (1985) about Helen and Franz Hessel and Henri-Pierre Roche. “Truffaut on Truffaut” collects five interviews conducted in France and the U.S. between 1965 and 1980, including an AFI seminar on 2/28/79. Four appear on video (80 min) and one is from a radio program (28 min). There are also interviews with the cinematographer Raoul Coutard (19 min) in 2003 and the co-writer Jean Gruault (21 min) in 1986, and a conversation about Jules and Jim between film scholars Robert Stam and Dudley Andrew from 2004. (23 min). There’s a trailer and a 32-page booklet featuring “On Jules and Jim” by John Powers, “ Henri-Pierre Roché Revisited” by Truffaut and his script notes with translations.
When a classic film like Jules and Jim comes in such an impressive package, in terms of both the HD presentation of its new digital transfer and the extensive bonus features, I can’t help but highly recommend this Criterion release.