When I was in my late teens and early 20s, Brigitte Bardot frightened me. She was too sexual. Like Janet Leigh. And Jane Russell. My first great film loves were Emmanuelle Riva, in Alain Resnais’s “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (1959)…
and Jeanne Moreau, in François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim” (1962).
Riva died in January 2017, Moreau on July 31, both at 89.
Her New York Times obituary said Moreau was an actress whom “journalists liked to call the thinking moviegoer’s femme fatale.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines femme fatale as: “An alluring and seductive woman, especially one who leads men into compromising and dangerous situations.” Moreau’s Catherine, in “Jules and Jim,” was certainly not like any woman I’d ever known—or have known since, sexually promiscuous but—or and—with the ability to remain friends with all her lovers, who became and /or remained friends with one another.
I saw “Jules and Jim” at the now vanished New Yorker theater, on Broadway between 88th and 89th Streets, the year it opened, my sophomore year at Columbia. I didn’t see many movies in those days, because I didn’t have a lot of extra spending money. I don’t know if I was conscious at the time that the movie changed my life, but that was certainly the case. I’d never seen anything like it: its voice-over narration, stop-action animation, the sense that its story could not have been told in any other medium. For a great many years, years when seeing a movie meant going to a movie theater, I saw “Jules and Jim” every year at one or another of New York’s repertory revival theaters. I’ve owned a DVD for years, but can’t remember the last time I watched it. I always cite it as my favorite film, but I guess I think of it as a film to be seen in a big room in the dark among others. I brought the DVD with me on a visit to Black Mountain NC to see Lily, and I’ll see if I can interest her in a memorial viewing.
Truffaut based his film on a semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roché. I don’t think I’ve ever read the book, and I just ordered an English translation. Roché was nearly 80 when he wrote it and it will be interesting to see if it has the movie’s vitality and, though it is ultimately a tragedy, love of life. Fans of the Roché novel or the book should click on this link. I was never aware that another Truffaut film, Les Deux Anglaise et le Continent (“Two English Girls”), was made from a Roché novel.
In my movie reviewing days with the Daily News, I met Truffaut at a party thrown by the French film office in connection with the New York Film Festival. (It may have been the same party when I ran into Leonard Cohen, who’d been a school friend in Montreal of my friend Wendy Keyes, a director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Film Festival’s producer. The party was full of young French actresses, and Cohen sidled up to me and said rather mournfully: “All these French women…They’re so beautiful.”)
I made the mistake of telling Truffaut that “Jules and Jim” was my favorite film. Whatever movie he’d just made was surely his current favorite film, not the 12-or-so year old “Jules and Jim.” I’m sure he was polite, but the conversation didn’t go far.
While we’re at it, I can report that I had a more enthusiastic response from Eric Rohmer when I told him I admired his 1969 film, “My Night at Maud’s.” Admired it so much that on my first trip to Europe in 1971 I made a stop in Clermont-Ferrand, a university and industrial city in central France where the film is set. The movie’s characters spend a lot of time in cafes and bookstores, and the city was striking to me for the number of bookstores and outdoor equipment shops. It is best known as the headquarters of the Michelin tire company, and Rohmer said that my visiting there would be like his visiting Pittsburgh.