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The Criterion Collection presents
"I don't want to be understood."
DVD ReviewWhen you review a fair number of DVDs for a website like this one, you come to know that there's a certain amount of chaff that comes with the wheat. I feel confident that I can speak for all my dOc colleagues in saying that there are discs which we've been asked to review that we regret watching even once—getting a review copy is very nice and all, but sometimes even free is too high a price to pay for a couple of hours of our time. But truly, Jules et Jim is worth watching over and again—it's one of those movies so jam packed with nuance, with artistry, with skill and with passion that you can't take it all in on the first viewing. And Truffaut has such control as a director that he trusts us, his audience, to reach our own conclusions about his characters, and his story—he doesn't need to spoon feed or telegraph emotional reactions to us, because the material is so rich that it leads us there without having to yank us by the hand.
My review of the previous DVD release of the title covers most of the bases, though I was struck on re-viewing by Truffaut's emphasis on storytelling within his tale—it's a movie in which characters are continually telling their stories to one another, shading facts and meaning for the desired response. Truffaut doesn't shy away from the obvious homoeroticism between the two characters of the title, though their shared passion for Catherine mitigates some of this; she's frequently enchanting though occasionally unbearable, one of those people who cannot stand not being the center of attention, and will do absolutely everything to see to it that focus is thrown to her, the consequences be damned. It makes her seem like a monster and a brute at times, especially when you consider that she's a motherŃas is remarked about her, "She's a force of nature that manifests itself in cataclysms."
On some level this was the apex of Truffaut's career; it didn't taunt him in quite the manner that Citizen Kane did for Orson Welles, but really, once you've made something as great as Jules et Jim, it's got to feel like there's no place to go but down. That's not to slight the many wonderful films that Truffaut later made, but really, this one is as good as it gets.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The DVD gods must be well pleased with us—as I wrote about the previous release, "A film of this stature deserves better video presentation in this digital format," and here we are. The image quality is quite spectacular, with inky blacks and a carefully modulated gray scale; debris and scratches have been lovingly removed, making this film look remarkably fine.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Perhaps not as noteworthy as the image transfer, but noteworthy nonetheless, for clarity and lack of aural interference.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Suzanne Schiffman, Jean Gruault, Claudine Bouchˇ, Annette Insdorf (first track); Jeanne Moreau with Serge Toubiana (second track)
Packaging: Double alpha
Moreau herself was recorded in 2002 for the second commentary track, on which Serge Toubiana functions as interviewer—La Moreau is very much the grande dame of French cinema here, though it's worth listening to for her free-ranging reminiscences on her director's methods. (This track is in French, with English subtitles.) The first disc also features Truffaut on Roché (07m:13s), a 1966 French television interview in which the director discusses the book, showing off its international editions and giving some background on the writer; an original trailer; and extended excerpts (31m:14s) from The Key to Jules and Jim, a 1985 documentary directed by Thomas Honickel on Roché and Franz and Helen Hessel, on whom the central characters were based. They're all long since gone, so speaking for them are the Hessels' children.
Disc 2 brims with still more, starting under the heading Truffaut on Truffaut, where you'll find five extended interviews with the director. The first (08m:54s) is from a 1965 French television broadcast, Cinéastes de notre temps, with an emphasis again on Roché; the second (32m:01s), from 1969, shows Truffaut, Moreau and Jean Renoir lounging on a couch and discussing the film. Truffaut is interviewed by Richard Roud in the next (09m:35s), from 1977—this is billed as the director's first appearance on American television, but the interview is conducted in French. Excerpts (28m:59s) from a 1979 American Film Institute Dialogue on Film shows the director running a seminar with eager film students, and with Insdorf translating for him. Finally here, Truffaut and Jean-Claude Philippe discuss the film, in a 1980 interview (28m:01s) with almost twenty years of hindsight.
Cinematographer Raoul Coutard sat for a 2003 interview (19m:16s), reflecting on the challenges and the possibilities of youth, as exemplified by the film; Gruault is back in a 1986 piece (20m:48s) discussing the nature of his collaboration with the director. Providing some historical context and situating the picture in the nouvelle vague are film scholars Robert Stam of NYU and Dudley Andrew of Yale, in a 2004 discussion (23m:23s).
The stills gallery is jammed with screenplay pages onto which excerpts from the novel have been pasted, old shooting schedules and all sorts of international posters—lots of this is very cool, but much of it is difficult to read, what with less than optimal reproductions, tiny print, and the fact that most everything here is in French. The thick accompanying booklet features an essay on the movie by John Powers; a representative sample of Truffaut's own critical writings; and the original review of the movie by Pauline Kael, who writes that "I think it will rank among the great lyric achievements of the screen, right up there with the work of Griffith and Renoir." Amen.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsEven a ragged and technically compromised DVD release of Jules et Jim was worth having in your collection, but now you can safely use that Fox Lorber release as a coaster, or as the Goofus to Criterion's Gallant. This wonderful film gets all the bells and whistles—technically it looks marvelous, and the voluminous extras will only enhance your appreciation for the feature. It would be difficult to recommend this one highly enough.
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