When François Truffaut was a twenty-three-year-old film critic, in 1955, he read a first novel by a seventy-four-year-old writer, Henri-Pierre Roché. “The book overwhelmed me,” he later recalled, “and I wrote: If I ever succeed in making films, I will make Jules and Jim.” Six years later—after constantly rereading and even partly memorizing Roché’s novel—he more than redeemed that promise. Sixties audiences didn’t merely see his movie; they wanted to live it. […]
Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote that the greatest art is about the passing of time. Jules and Jim flies by like a dream, suffused with a sense of life’s evanescence. As the characters grow older, and perhaps wiser, we become aware of how much has been lost—loss of love, loss of innocence, loss of the marvelously lamplit Bohemian past to the searchlight horror of Nazism. An intimate melancholy pervades the movie’s voice-over narration, which adores the characters’ brave inquiry into love’s possibilities but is also wryly aware of the relief that accompanies the end of such inquiries. As critic Andrew Sarris once wrote, Jules and Jim celebrates “the sweet pain of the impossible and the magnificent failure of an ideal.” -- John Powers, Criterion.