DUMB AND DUMBER
François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim offers up a question I still don’t have an answer for: Can a period piece immersed in early 60s French moderism stand the test of a contemporary audience? Something’s not right throughout what has been acclaimed as a “celebration of bohemian life” that ends so tragically: isn’t a happy ménage à trois the implicit dream play of Truffaut? As the story starts to unfold, there’s a subdued erotic arousal in what looks to be a trilateral possession. Therein lies the nasty rub—that the woman Catherine who enters the cozy world of Jules and Jim is much less than what they were originally charmed by and definitely not equal to them. I’m perplexed that critics think Jeanne Moreau’s Catherine is all that independent, and intellectual, all that much of a free thinker. She’s the diametric opposite; for brevity’s sake, she’s childishly arbitrary and a control freak. She’s playing out the parts Jules and Jim fantasize (or tolerate) about her, and it becomes fatal that they don’t object and then reject that she’s made of them simultaneously willing and unwilling wimps. How can she really be the one Jules and Jim want to share, especially after she slaps Jules and then capriciously jumps fully clothed into a river? These two men are highly literate and often very perceptive—they would have read or seen Strindberg and Ibsen and come to recognize the warnings of poison. Stanley Kauffmann is right, despite what his Pacifica Radio nemesis says: Catherine is more than a little nuts, she’s psychotic. (My late mother, who was not a movie lover but probably a repressed man-hater, was held captive by her.) Moreau skirts danger: as Catherine the fundamental bore she leans toward boring; the psycho bitch games are so overt that Jules and Jim become dolts and some of us viewers made stupor. (Had the men dumped her, she’d have become Genet’s Mademoiselle.) Because Truffaut blunts any suggestion of a sexual three-way, the movie appears to have to become a lyrical but nevertheless bummer morality play by default; where else could he go if he feared the consequences? As it happened, the old Legion of Decency gave the film its dreaded “C” rating anyway. In evocation of the period, Jules et Jim is close to ravishing—Raoul Coutard’s imagery induces a melancholic time travel feel. Truffaut’s techniques remain superlative and, comparing him against today’s moviemakers, he’s still a giant: he was only 30 when he made this movie. The feeling you derive from his loving directorship is somewhat akin to the huge smile he gives us when he’s agog over that alien in Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.
Discernibly dumb as Jules et Jim may be to a hipper audience, dumber is Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura. More tolerable than the posing-in-banquet halls and chatting-in-overstuffed-lobbies that characterize Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, it’s not as entertaining as Fellini’s conspicuous La Dolce Vita. Who’d argue that these pictures, and Antonioni’s La Notte, and Fellini’s 8½, are really anything more than emblems from the arty farty era? If the directors were compelled to re-examine their highfalutin essaying—all that heavy treading of Euro sterility, alienation, boredom and self-absorption—they’d be (and should be) embarrassed by the ease with which we see how they’ve camouflaged what are commonplace and often false emotions and sexual tensions. Ingmar Bergman would, later in his life, say, “I don’t feel anything for L’Avventura, only indifference. I never understood why Antonioni was so incredibly applauded. And I thought his muse Monica Vitti was a terrible actress.” And making her worse, I found it patently ridiculous that Vitti should give one damn when she discovers her mere three-day lover Gabriele Ferzetti is an unrepentant womanizer. If easily seduced into letting him pump her so quickly after the sudden yet apparently not very disturbing disappearance of his girlfriend and her best friend, whose whereabouts remain a Chandra Levy mystery, how could she affect betrayal when finding him bagging yet another bimbo? Aldo Scavarda’s photography keeps a lot of cineastes from seeing the void for the ciphers.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2007 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.