The French New Wave classic chronicles the lives of two men and the dangerous object of their affections
François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim from 1962 is the love triangle that feels like it’s happening in the swinging 60s present moment, like Godard’s triple-header Bande à Part. Actually, it’s set before and after the first world war, and the three principals finally reunite by bumping into each other at a Paris cinema showing a newsreel about the Nazis’ book-burning. (It’s based on a novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, who wrote another love-triangle story, Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent, which Truffaut filmed as Two English Girls in 1971.)
Appropriately for this film’s internationalist ethos, neither male hero has a homeland-appropriate name. Oskar Werner is Jules, a diffident young Austrian living in 1912 Paris: scholar, translator and Francophile. He befriends the rather more worldly Frenchman Jim, the journalist and would-be author played by Henri Serre. They are instantly as thick as thieves, a couple of jaunty swells and elegant flâneurs, devoted to art and avowedly uninterested in money – though each, apparently, has some modest private income. They drink in cafes, discuss poetry, box together at the gym and in a rather desultory way pursue women, including the madcap Thérèse (played by Truffaut stalwart Marie Dubois) who has a party trick of puffing a cigarette from the wrong end like a steam train.