It's a delight to encounter in Jules et Jim (1962) the absence of the typical patterns and rhythms of American cinema. This early Truffaut traces the friendship of two men—one German and one French—starting before the first World War through the early 1930s. They become fast friends and spend much time together, so much so that some question the nature of their relationship. They meet a woman named Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), a free spirit in every sense of the word. They fall in love with her and Jules begins a relationship with her, but Jules remains friends with Jim. The film shows scene after scene of the idyllic times the three spend together. When war is declared, both Jules and Jim are called to duty by their countries. Catherine is pregnant and decides to marry Jules.
During the war, both Jules and Jim worry that one will kill the other. Jules is glad to be assigned to the Russian front, where he knows Jim is unlikely to be.
When the war ends, Jim and Jules resume their friendship. Catherine has given birth to a beautiful child, a girl. When Jim visits, both Jules and Catherine confide in him that their relationship has soured. Catherine says she can no longer be a wife to Jules, and Jules says he is resigned to the end of their relationship, and that he will do anything to avoid losing Catherine, who has had affairs with at least three other men. Jim finds himself attracted to Catherine, and she feels a similar attraction. Jules tells Jim that he can accept the possibility of a relationship between Jim and Catherine and even hopes that it may prevent him from losing her. Jim moves in, and the three begin a life together.
Jules et Jim chronicles the ups and downs of this unconventional relationship. The tone is casual and lighthearted. The sequence of events seems to build towards nothing. Catherine's changeable personality, her shifting relationship with Jules and then with Jim (as well as other men), determines the course of the film. Eventually, Jim decides that he cannot put up with Catherine and decides to marry a girl in the city. They all meet in a movie theater, which is playing newsreels of the 1933 book burning by the German Student Association. Jules and Catherine invite Jim to visit. Catherine asks to speak to Jim privately in her car. She drives it off a bridge and they both die.
What begins as a film about an unusual relationship ends in a tragedy caused by a woman who is probably a psychopath. Although Catherine's emotional problems deepen as the film progresses—Jules is afraid she will kill herself, and at one point she threatens Jim with a pistol—the carefree tone never really changes. Is Catherine simply a free spirit, a woman who doesn't feel restrained by conventional morality, who feels free to seek happiness and fulfillment without regard for the reactions of others, or is she mentally ill? The possibility that she has a psychopathic personality is never raised until the final scenes of the film, and even then it isn't clear that we are not supposed to think she has acted impulsively out of her desire not to lose someone she loves.
The ending seemed out of synch with the rest of the film.