Im Truffaut - go see my movie!

I'm delighted that my film Jules and Jim has been re-released in the UK, and that Ronald Bergan's collection of the interviews I gave over the years until my death in 1984, some translated into English for the first time, has just been published.

Jules and Jim came about when I discovered the novel by Henri Roché by accident in a bookshop in the Palais Royal. The title pleased me immediately, and when I read on the cover that it was the first novel by a man of 73 years old, I became even more interested. I love "lived" stories, memoirs, memories, those who recount their lives.

I found the book marvellous and was struck by the scabrous situations and at the same time the purity of the ensemble. I thought that it was not possible to create its equivalence in the cinema until I later saw Naked Dawn by Edgar G Ulmer. It was a low budget Western, but for 15 minutes it showed, as in Jules and Jim, and with the same freshness, a woman hesitating between two equally sympathetic men.

In my review of the film when I worked as a critic, I mentioned the novel by Roché, who sent me a letter thanking me. We continued to write to each other and I told him that I dreamt of filming Jules and Jim. We spoke of an adaptation and he imagined the dialogue "airy and tight". He would have written it himself, had he not died just before the release of The 400 Blows.

I kept the film a voice-off commentary each time the text appeared to be impossible to transform into dialogue, or too beautiful to allow it be amputated. I prefer a classical adaptation transforming a book into a play, an intermediate form - something that corresponds in some way to a filmed novel. I think that Jules and Jim is more of a cinematographic book than a pretext for a literary film.

There is a song in the film called Le Tourbillon de la Vie (The Whirlpool of Life). It suggests the tone and reveals the key to the film. Perhaps because it was written by an old man, I consider that Jules and Jim is a hymn to life. That is why I wanted to create an impression that a great lapse of time has passed, marked by the birth of children but also cut by war, by death, which gives it a more complete meaning to an entire existence.

It is perhaps ambitious to make a film of an old man, but the picture fascinated me so much that it allowed me to reach a certain detachment. It appeared easier to create it, because it takes place in an epoch in which I didn't live. I wanted to make audiences feel as objective, as I did.

It is equally a story of love, but because the couple doesn't always have successful or satisfactory notions, it seems legitimate to find a different morality, another way of life, although their plans are doomed to failure. Nevertheless, in spite of its "modern" appearance, the film isn't polemical. Without doubt, the young woman of Jules and Jim wants to live in the same manner as a man, but it is only a particularity of her character, not a feminist attitude. We could say that the character of the woman - portrayed by Jeanne Moreau - is simultaneously conventional and anti-conventional. Also, when she became too much like Scarlett O'Hara, I gave her spectacles to make her more human, more realistic. I stopped Moreau from being too showy. I tried to "de-intellectualise" her in reference to her precedent films and at the same time to restore more physicality to her acting and dynamism to her role.

What worries me now, all these years after it first appeared in 1962, is it gives the impression that I was going with the fashion in make a feminist film. Catherine will be recuperated by feminism, independence, a woman's choice. The topic of the time made me want to run away ... I know that this attitude may appear unpleasant. Let's say that my refusal to go with the mode is so deep in me that it made me want to make films that turn their backs on topical themes - themes which, possibly, could interest me. For right or wrong, I believe there is no art without paradox: now in the political film, there is no paradox, because already in the script, it is decided who is good and who is bad. Love is more important than social questions. It is the way to lead people to truth. There is more truth in sentimental relations than in social relations. There is more truth in the bedroom than in the office or the boardroom.

There are very few films I like outside of films about love in one form or another. If 10 directors made The Bridge on the River Kwai, you would get much the same film from all of them. But if you suggested to them the subject of Brief Encounter, you would get 10 different films. To speak of love requires a greater gift and obliges one to go beyond the frame of just telling a story.

Love, whether obsessional or exploratory, is the domain of women. Men know nothing about love. They are always beginners. The heroine is always the stronger.

Ronald Bergan
first published in



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