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DVD Pick: "Jules and Jim" (Criterion Collection)


François Truffaut's "Jules and Jim" (1962) has long been one of my favorite movies, and now I'm thrilled to own The Criterion Collection two-disc DVD set containing this great French-language film. I rate this DVD set as one of the best ever.

Back in April, 2002, Fox Lorber released a single-disc DVD version of "Jules and Jim," and you can find my review of that elsewhere on this site. However, the Criterion Collection version is far superior in every way.

For those not familiar with "Jules and Jim," I'll give a brief description. It opens in Paris not long before World War I, has a post-war part of the story set at a rustic chalet near the Rhine, and ends in 1933 with sequences that take place in Paris and the surrounding countryside. The title characters are best friends portrayed by Oskar Werner and Henri Serre, respectively. In love with both men is the enigmatic Catherine, played by Jeanne Moreau in one of the most memorable performances in all of cinema.

The DVD provides a feature-length audio commentary track recorded in 2000 that is mostly by Jeanne Moreau, and I found her remarks very insightful. She would have been about 72 at that time. Accompanying her is film critic and Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana, but he mainly tries to draw her out. This commentary is in French with optional English subtitles provided, and indeed, English subtitles are available for all the non-English-language bonus materials on the DVDs.

The movie "Jules and Jim" is based on Henri-Pierre Roché's 1953 novel, which I also love. There's not much doubt that Roché based the novel on his own life with his fictional alter ego being Jim. According to the DVD, Jules and Catherine were based on a German couple named Franz and Helen Hessel. Perhaps my favorite extra on the DVD is the 1985 documentary "The Key to Jules and Jim," which consists of five excerpts totaling 31 minutes about Roché and the Hessels. The Hessels' sons do a lot of talking, and they speak in German. Roché's son is also heard from, and he speaks in French.

I also found interesting the seven-minute interview with Truffaut excerpted from the French TV program "Bibliothèque de poche" that originally aired in 1966. Here the filmmaker tells about how he stumbled across the then obscure novel while browsing second-hand books and offers his reflections on the author. Truffaut says, "It's mainly a book about morality. That's what moved me about it."

In addition to the Truffaut interview about Roché, the DVD set contains five other bonus materials focusing on the filmmaker. The one of these I enjoyed the most was the 29-minute Q&A session at the American Film Institute's "Dialogue on Film" in 1979, where the questions are in English and film scholar Annette Insdorf immediately translates Truffaut's French-language responses into English. Another extra about Truffaut I found fascinating was the 32-minute video interview that originally aired on the French program "L'Invité du dimanche" in 1969. It also features Jeanne Moreau and the legendary Jean Renoir ("The Rules of the Game," "Grand Illusion").

The remaining DVD bonus materials focusing on Truffaut are: (1) a nine-minute video interview that originally aired on the French program "Cinéastes de notre temps" in 1965; (2) Truffaut's first appearance on American TV, a nine-minute French-language interview with the New York Film Festival director that aired on a local program called "Camera Three" in 1977; and (3) a 28-minute interview for the French radio series "Le Cinéma des cinéastes."

I wish the DVD set would have had a bit more scholarly analysis. However there is some in the 23-minute 2004 English-language conversation between Robert Stam, a professor of cinema studies at New York University, and Dudley Andrew, a professor of comparative literature and film studies at Yale.

Continued on the Next Page: More About the DVD Bonus Materials

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