Sensuous bodies or Jules et Jim

Jules et Jim

Nizar M. Halloun | June 18, 2014 | Photography

Jules et Jim, or the sensuous bodies:
text and screen through photography.

You know it, do you not? It is impossible and unthinkable to bring to the screen all the information contained in a book. Moreover, a filmmaker who simply treats a novel as a synopsis pushed the adaptation to remain poor regardless of the chosen work. Yes, it is while being sensitive to the different views and aspects offered by literature that the film will seize the ton and the atmosphere of a novel. And similarly, Hollywood, listen, a good book is not necessarily a good script, aye?

So what? what about Jules et Jim? and does this have anything to do with photography?  Well, a director who understood that there was a need to operate in another way was François Truffaut. We will refer to Henri Pierre Roché’s novel in order to see how Truffaut has adapted it; focusing at first on the author’s style, the novel’s characters, and its ton. I have hand picked one scene, only one (!), that we will look at together, holding hands, while emphasising on the photo-cinematographic technics, the choice of the narrator and, hail, the role of music in the film.

At first, it was Roché’s style that has impressed Truffaut. Wishing to pay tribute to his prose, he took over whole sections of dialogue in the film. One must note that Roché’s style is very dry, concise, but in the same time very melodic:

The small and round Jules a stranger in Paris, asked the tall and slim Jim, whom he barely knew, to make enter the Quat-‘Arts ball, and Jim had bought a ticket and had taken him to the costume maker. While Jules went gently through the cloths and chose a simple dress of a slave was born Jim’s friendship for Jules.¹

This extract of the first paragraph of the novel shows the long sentences highly punctuated with commas, with clear structures and parallels, and simple adjectives, that results in fast and vivid reading impression.

Truffaut renders beautifully the strange atmosphere of the novel, albeit it does not comply scrupulously with the plot. This “betrayal” of the book is reflected in the decision to  select different passages and sentences throughout the novel while rearranging their initial order; and in the characters’ case, Kathe in the novel, Catherine, in the movie, the character played by Jeanne Moreau, is a marriage of multiples women or personalities with whom Jules and Jim are in love. And so, if the dialogues are identical, the situation between the characters is not all the same. In fact, there remains only three major female characters: Catherine, Gilberte and Theresa. However, Truffaut does not forget the first part of the book: many scenes are in fact dialogues between Jules and Jim with one of their conquests, that became scenes between Jules, Jim and Catherine. Take for instance the dialogue before the dive… it was originally with Magda. Although the jump itself takes part in the second part of the book.

So that is where it gets interesting, or sexy, intellectually that is, which is more sexy than than the standard sexy. The voiceover, the abundance of it, its highly elevated rhythm, is not providing information but rather trying to establish a world with its characters. It is a literary voiceover directly transposed from the novel. It is a voice that carries the rhythm, the mise-en-scene, and even the montage, giving them a vital energy throughout the novel, it is a Kharybdis the carries everything downwards with it. Take the  generic of the beginning, a patch work of scenes that are not related, that already, starting from the beginning, imposes the mosaic principle, condensing time, avoids unwanted repetitions by showing and narrating two events simultaneously, rendering a book-like atmosphere, leaving only what is important.

And that is where photography frames-in… the meeting with Catherine takes place on a different level and through three different art forms: through an image projected on a wall, through the statue, and finally in person. She is considered to be from a different reality, belonging to another aesthetic dimension, and having power over life and death, and thus, Time. The “incarnation” of Catherine follows the first stages of the imaginary, of the fantasy, through an image that will slowly take form. This parallelism is followed throughout the film. Truffaut makes different usages of time : during the screening of the images, suddenly there are rapid cuts of the different angle of the statue, and so this parallels the rapid cuts that are made when Jules and Jim meet Catherine for the first time. Presenting both of the statue and the Catherine as Art, and if you look closely she is conscious of her own elevation, she poses! twice! once with and once without a smile. And later when the Jules and Jim are playing dominos, she demands attention, literally pose-pauses and the camera obeys to her, and hence again having power over Time, plays along using freeze-frame to immortalise her. She is admired, listened and obeyed to, she will be at one point even carried on their shoulders, she is therefor both literally and symbolically above all humans. This three dimensional presentation of Catherine sheds the mystery through a silent uncontrolled energy, though her ambiguous smile that is both opaque and closed. This kind of montage insists on the importance of the moment since they are often followed by music in crescendo and an emotionless off-voice. Photographic immortality is used again in the café, where Jules shows Jim the picture of the women of his country, they are exposed in a different reality and a different meaning of time-place, they also are Art picture objects.

Now Catherine jumps into the river. Her smile remains “unchanged”, says the narrator, the reference to the Italian war campaign clearly indicates the effectiveness of the coup done by Catherine to impose her agenda. She has deliberately directed her act (isolated herself, marched forward, smiled, removes the veil), which is highlighted by Truffaut’s work (cutting the jump, the disappearance of diegetic clues to identification are realistic sounds). This montage is clearly speaking for its own, by the means used here, we are warned about a close coming danger, underlining the importance of the moment and foreshadowing the tragedy to come. We must consider the role of the strange dialogue of Jules et Jim. If the second replica of Jim offers a curveball self-irony on the whole of Truffaut’s work ( “a room confused and complacent, yet he is one of those guys who pretend to paint Vice to better show the virtue”).

Thematically the sequence of the dive Jules is characterised by instability (high-angle/low-angle shots), the dive is treated with insistence and emphasis, stressed, stretched by the fittings, the music, the solemnity of silence; and the gyre, the one of life and death represented by Catherine’s hat left behind, floating on the water, leaving already a part of herself in the flowing river.

The two sequences of the dives in the adaptation thus provide, mirroring, numerous structural equivalences around the recurring theme of a tragedy charged with energy with a tint of cheerfulness. The scene of the tragedy answers the scene of the last dive. All that separates the two sequences explain the logic of the diegetic and tragic end, but a significant part of which is covered by the film can be viewed through the two punctuation of the metonymic scenes: speech, silences, themes, the treatments are emblematic of the entire narrative in the micro world that is their parallelism.

I will end my post here, without subtle conclusions. Every scene in the movie has been thoroughly thought out, beautifully rendered, and can watched over over. Putting an end to the analysis is mimicking a summary to a movie that cannot be summarised but only lemniscat-ed.

What is your favourite movie? What makes you watch it endlessly and relentlessly? drop me a line!


“C’était vers 1907. Le petit et rond Jules, étranger à Paris, avait demandé au grand et mince Jim, qu’il connaissait à peine, de le faire entrer au bal des Quat-z’Arts, et Jim lui avait procuré une carte et l’avait emmené chez le costumier. C’est pendant que Jules fouillait doucement parmi les étoffes et choisissait un simple costume d’esclave que naquit l’amitié de Jim pour Jules.” Jules et Jim, première partie, chapitre 1 : Jules et Jim.



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