Tonight I experienced this film as one ought, on a big screen, in a ravishing black and white print, if that is the right word. How films are remastered into such perfect moving pictures is beyond me and I must look into it. The clarity and richness of the moving image, which at rare moments Truffaut held in a still, freeze-frame, was astonishing.
What I want to do here is write of my reaction to such a remarkable work of art, my reaction as a gay man, often in my young life bisexual, who pursued the loves and friendship portrayed here. Like the characters, I was often so caught in the moment that I failed to step back, pan as a camera can, to an overview, a necessary distance to appreciate fully the richness of the life I was living.
The film moves from the idyllic and innocent world of the young friends, through their Bohemian days in Paris, to the ravages of a war (WWI) in which they fight on opposite sides, to the love affair with Catherine, embodied perfectly by Jeanne Moreau. Their friendship, with never any question of sexual attraction, becomes a strange relationship of empathy, fellow feeling, shared joys of ordinary life and good conversation, then jealousy, then a deeper sharing, as they both become lovers, then alternate husbands of Catherine, who is the archetype of a Femme Fatale.
There is no Hollywood ending, nor any of the mundane morality of monogamy and family values here. Catherine is moved by emotion, by her own logic and feeling, as the men struggle with their own conflict of emotion and reason. I shall have to read what feminists think of Catherine as a woman, whether they think her liberated or somehow a victim of her society and her relationships with the men.
The view of the limits, especially the false expectations of marriage, must have been way ahead of its time in 1962; the same time that Masters and Johnson were revealing so much about human sexuality.
The ending is sad. We are left feeling it could not have been otherwise. Do we take joy in the menage-a-trois as it was lived out, do we look for some alternate solution or ending, or should we go with the inevitability of suffering in relationships? Nonetheless, how I admire the art, the way Truffaut presents life to us. How many of us, I wonder, must identify with Jules?