Jules et Jim (1962), directed by François Truffaut
“The eponymous characters, Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre), bohemians with money in Belle Époque Paris, are besotted with a work of classical statuary, a woman with an enigmatic smile. When the beguiling free spirit Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), the living embodiment of their ideal, saunters into their orbit, the best friends are electrified. Her life force jolts them—and the movie—to life. Can a woman love two men at once and not come between them? Can the men’s friendship withstand her volatility?”
“Although the film is called Jules et Jim, the dominant character in it is Catherine. She is independent, unpredictable and silly enough to throw herself into the Seine when the two men discuss a Strindberg play without her participation. She is prepared to bear Jules a child but not ready to be either an orthodox wife or mother. She even starts an affair with Jim, half knowing that both men are too fond of each other and of her to break off their friendship. Besides, as she says, ‘one is never completely in love for more than a moment.’ […]
The film is full of idyllic moments that translate into doubt and retreat. The atmosphere of gathering gloom with which the film ends is thus totally logical, matching the storm clouds over Europe. ‘They left nothing behind them,’ is the commentary’s epitaph after the death of Catherine. The whirlwind of life continues but without the three friends.”
“From this distance, it seems two men loved Catherine, and doubtful whether Catherine ever loved anyone. […]
Jules et Jim is a reminder of how much has changed since 1962, and how much of that change has been for the good. We no longer expect lovers of the same sex to live in denial, or to interact through the medium of a person of the other sex, nor do we expect women to achieve their own ends by manipulating the agency of men. I hope I am not wrong in thinking that most people seeing Jules et Jim for the first time will find the ending to be not an act of poetic justice, but the final atrocious extravagance of an indulged and destructive narcissist.”
As my sister summarized in a text message after we watched the film together remotely, “Foreign, dark, beautiful.” To that, I would add “unsettling.” A consistent showcase of style, represented in the fashion and air of the main characters in as much as how they were portrayed on film, the underlying weight of the reality they wove for themselves—Jim, Jules, and Catherine—is unsettling. First, there’s the unsettling ambiguity of Catherine, her behaviors freely bouncing between that of a free spirit and an emotionally unstable saboteur. Second, the unsettling invitation for mutually assured romantic destruction between Jules and Jim, each overlooking their own naiveté in proposing that love triangles and hard feelings can be mutually exclusive. And then there’s the unsettling realization that no matter how foolish this attempt to follow their hearts might seem by the end of the film, that my own heart has led me into situations equally as foolish and deadly (though—at least as far as the latter term is concerned—only figuratively so).
I Am a Ghost (2012), directed by H.P. Mendoza
“Mendoza brings us into the house and mind of Emily, who’s dead and doesn’t know it until a medium connects with her inside a Victorian home.”
“It seems her soul has been stuck in this home where she was (possibly) murdered long ago, and has recently been scaring the hell out of its current (never-seen) residents with poltergeisty disturbances. Trouble is, every time Emily is on the brink of crossing over, she panics and forgets she’s dead, begins reliving memories from her mortal existence, and has to be psychically wooed all over again.”
The film portrays life from our lead’s perspective, with each new day built only upon a vague set of memories barely concrete enough to convince her they’ve actually happened. If each day is new, why then are they so ripe with mundane familiarity? Why then does life never seem to really change? Time feels like it’s passing, but beneath the day’s activities and chores there remains a constant hum, echoing if only to confirm things are not quite as they seem. This, it turns out, is true, and the hum becomes a roar when our lead is confronted by a shapeless faceless being. This is a ghost if ever there was one. Yet, it turns out, that it is our lead who is of the once-living variety, explains the kind voice, tied to the house by a blend of mixed memories and false beliefs. The voice, it is revealed, was sent to help our lead find her path out of one life and into the next. She has tried to help before, and as she does, her attempts to guide the ghost to her resting place reflect a common truth about how we all struggle to move beyond the stories we’ve written for ourselves. Sometimes the voice we initially fear is the voice that helps us take the step we need to take. Add to this specific situation a specific lack of self-awareness symptomatic of a specific type of mental illness, which is all established to hide a grim reality that what lurks up the stairs in the attic is sometimes only the other half of the known self. It turns out even ghosts fear the dark.