Like Rashomon or M or Breathless, Jules and Jim is one of those "classic" foreign films whose energies remain undimmed in spite of its familiarity. Its best scenes and images effortlessly rekindle your love for the movies. I think it's the weakest of Francois Truffaut's three early feature-length masterpieces — more detached and academic than his semi-autobiographical debut The 400 Blows but less lively than his melancholy Shoot the Piano Player. Yet despite its sluggish second half, it's one of the peaks of moviemaking art. As Pauline Kael once wrote, "Even if you don't take more than a fraction of the possible meanings from the material, you still get far more than if you examined almost any other current film, frame by frame, under a microscope."
The frenetic speed of the film's first half feels positively cutting-edge today. Truffaut tried out every idea he'd ever had about editing, transitions, stock footage, and cinematic time in the film's first 20 minutes, frequently julienning key events into shimmering glimpses of light and shadow. Once Truffaut settles down, cinematographer Raoul Coutard's rubbernecking camera takes over, pacing the grounds and wringing its hands as the three leads try to balance love, passion, and emotional maturity.
Some passages in Jules and Jim will outlast us all: Jeanne Moreau, in cap and painted-on moustache, racing across a bridge; the helicopter shots of the chalet in the countryside where the film's second and third acts transpire; Moreau again, an instant of joy overtaking her harsh, haggard face as she sings a song about lovers who eternally cross paths.