At Home With Hootman: From ‘Jules et Jim’ to ‘Lawrence of Belgravia’

June 14, 2022

JULES ET JIM (BFI Blu-ray). Truffaut’s masterpiece has a passing resemblance to a romcom but it occasionally has the darkness, and psychologcial depth, of a Bergman. Just before the Great War a close friendship forms between two bohemians, Austrian Jules (Oskar Werner) and native Parisian Jim (Henri Serre). They do wild romantic things like visiting a small Adriatic island simply to see the bust of a goddess with an enchanting smile. A woman with the same smile, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), turns up in their lives and the three become inseperable until Catherine and Jules marry and the two men find themselves fighting on opposite sides in the Great War.

The centre of the film is undoubtedly Moreau who is accurately described as ‘a force of nature that lives in cataclysms’. She is the freest of spirits but is her determination to live life on her own terms idealistic or selfish? The scene where, after the war, Jules confides to Jim that his marriage is not happy is beautifully handled and quietly heartbreaking.

There are many lines which will have modern audiences outraged or scratching their heads, from a quoted description of women being ‘abominable’ or ‘a blend of idiocy and depravity’ to a very strange scene where a friend of Jim’s introduces his latest conquest as an ‘empty thing’ whose only use is for sex.

The ending – which stretched my credulity – perhaps points to the idea that Catherine is mentally disturbed more than anything. This is a film which is a half-century old so it’s not surprising it doesn’t chime with us totally; but its virtues of character and Truffaut’s sheer mastery of the medium more than make up for its vices.

LA PEAU DOUCE (SILKEN SKIN) (BFI Blu-ray). A married publisher has an affair with a much younger woman in one of Truffaut’s less successful films. It’s a serious drama but the narrative has its farcical elements though the film – apart from one line it’s never overtly funny.

Whilst trying to keep the affair secret, life presents Lachenay, a famous intellectual, with petty humiliations and the sheer awkwardness of having to lie to everyone. His air hostess girlfriend (Françoise Dorléac) also has to keep things secret though when she’s accosted in the street by a random man and Lachenay can’t do anything to intervene it seems we’re supposed to feel sympathy for Lachenay as much as Nicole.

There’s one blackly funny scene where Nicole confides to Lachenay about a former boyfriend who ’nearly’ raped her and, after having sex with him, she felt so dirty she had to have a shower. His response, a cool ‘what did he do for work?’, certainly made me laugh though whether it was at the absurd insensitivity of Lachenay or Truffaut it’s hard to tell.

The film is also at pains to point out the role blind chance has in all human affairs though the fact that if you miss a plane and therefore don’t meet someone your life could take a different turn is fairly trite.

Françoise Dorléac has the charisma and beauty to carry the film and outshines her co-star to the degree it’s hard to see why she’s attracted to him. The crazy ending makes that of Jules et Jim look restrained.

LAWRENCE OF BELGRAVIA (BFI Blu-ray). Lawrence is the cult singer behind bands such as Felt and Denim whose work is sort of New Wave-ish with a bit of punk and occasionally psychedelic folk. This low-fi film follows him as despite being virtually penniless, homeless and on methadone he’s still doggedly continuing his music career with his latest band Go-Kart Mozart. The film looks like a mockumentary in its wry comedy with about 75% of its hero’s utterances being deliberately funny. I liked his declaration of love for Kate Moss and his insistence that they’d make a great match (they’d have a joint bank account and she’d put in her millions and he’d put in his dole every two weeks).

There’s a lot of discussion about former band members and obscure industry names from the ‘80s which I’m guessing would mean a lot to diehard musos. Lawrence isn’t quite enough of a presence to make the film appeal to anyone but his fans and those fascinated by indie music from 40 years ago.

OUTSIDE THE LAW (Eureka Blu-ray). In 1920 the police procedural had yet to be born so audiences – and it would seem filmmakers – had little idea of how either the police or criminals operated. Tod Browning’s silent feels like some kind of morality play where the gritty details of how the world works (even down to a safe which can be broken into simply by deftly turning a handle) are less important that its heroine’s moral salvation.

Priscilla Dean plays a hoodlum’s daughter who takes on one last job stealing some jewels due to the machinations of her dad’s arch enemy Blackie (Lon Chaney). This is the kind of film where a criminal can mend her evil ways simply by seeing the shadow of a cross on the living room carpet. It’s set in Chinatown and has a number of wise and serene Chinese characters who give philosophical advice and the film probably should get points for positive representation (and then have them taken away again as the parts are played by white actors). As a relic of film history it has a certain fascination.