Sunday, October 18, 2009

More foreign pretentions

If you want to express your displeasure with Hollywood, it's easy enough to point to some foreign movie or another, and praise it simply because it's foreign. Unfortunately, there are times that foreign movies get overrated simply because they're not Hollywood-type movies. Such, I fear, is the case with Jules et Jim, which IFC is showing tomorrow at 7:35 AM ET.

Jules, a young German man played by Oskar Werner, is one of those bohemian types living in Paris in the years just before World War I. He's good friends with Frenchman Jim (Henri Serre). They do everything together, including falling in love with the lovely Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). Of course, they can't both marry her, and Catherine marry Jules. World War I intervenes, and Catherine goes to Germany with Jules, and has a daughter by him. War, however, can't dim friendships, and after the war, Jim decides he wants to reconnect with Jules, going to Germany to visit him. What he finds is that Catherine is an extremely fickle woman. She seems to have fallen out of love with Jules, but in fact, it's more that she can't decide whether she wants to be with Jules, with both of them, or with neither of them. You just know that this can't end well for the three of them, and it doesn't, although how it ends badly is something I won't reveal.

The bad thing for the viewer is that the movie really begins to bog down once Jim goes to Germany to visit Jules. The story is a bit meandering to begin with, but in Germany, it really becomes talky, and as though the director, François Truffaut, can't figure out what he wants to do with the story. It's a bit of a shame, because the movie is well-photographed, and none of the actors is really doing anything wrong. But, the movie is squarely within the French New Vague, and, like Godard's Breathless, a pretty clear break from the movies that were made before it. I've argued before that there was a similar change in style in the US, and that people like Marlon Brando got praised simply because they were different. Sometimes, different can work, even if it's different and foreign. Godard's Alphaville, for example, is a lot of fun, and Miloš Forman's work from his days in Communist Czechoslovakia is enjoyable, too.

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