Videophiled Classic: ‘Jules and Jim’ and ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’

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Jules and Jim (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Dual-Format) is another Criterion upgrade of a previously released DVD, debuting on Blu-ray mastered from a new, restored 2K digital film transfer and released in a dual-format edition. An intense and reckless Jeanne Moreau delivers a performance steeped in mystery and enigma in Francois Truffaut’s tale of friendship and love. Oskar Werner is the Austrian Jules, a vibrant young biologist on slow, melancholy slide while Henri Serre plays his best friend, the enigmatic, introspective Parisian writer Jim. A scandal upon its release for its unapologetic treatment of a menage-a-trois, the film contrasts the stylistic freedom of nouvelle vague techniques (zooms, flash-cuts, handheld shots taken literally on the run) in the scenes of carefree youth with a somber, subdued approach for the “adult” years of impermanence. The handsome period piece jackrabbits through the story with concentrated scenes interspersed with newsreel footage and montages, pulled together by an interpretive “literary” narrator who layers the film with an added richness.

Carried over from the earlier DVD edition are two commentary tracks (one by co-writer Jean Gruault, Truffaut collaborator Suzanne Schiffman, editor Claudine Bouche, and Truffaut scholar Annette Insdorf, the other featuring actress Jeanne Moreau and Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana), excerpts from the 1985 documentary The Key to Jules and Jim about the author Henri-Pierre Roche, an episode of Cineaste de notre temps from 1965 dedicated to Truffaut, and a segment from the series L’Invitie du Dimanche from 1969 with Truffaut, Moreau, and filmmaker Jean Renoir, footage of Truffaut interviewed by Richard Roud at the 1977 New York Film Festival, excerpts from Truffaut’s presentation at a 1979 American Film Institute “Dialogue on Film,” a 1980 archival audio interview with Truffaut conducted by Claude-Jean Philippe, video interviews with cinematographer Raoul Coutard and co-writer Jean Gruault, and a video conversation between scholars Robert Stam and Dudley Andrew. The accompanying booklet features an essay by critic John Powers, a 1981 piece by Truffaut on Roché, and script notes from Truffaut to co-screenwriter Gruault.

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It feels odd to write that Crimes and Misdemeanors (Twilight Time, Blu-Ray) is my favorite Woody Allen film. It certainly doesn’t make me feel good, though it does offer a mix of despair and elation, and it may be a tad heavy (and yes, perhaps even heavyhanded) at times. Yet I think it’s one of his masterpieces, with characters that live with such a power within their defining contradictions and a theme that reminds us that life isn’t fair and how we deal with the unfairness is the measure of our humanity. Martin Landau received his second Academy Award nomination for his understated performance of an adulterer who is ‘persuaded’ (by Jerry Orbach) to let a hitman take care of a problem, namely the mistress (Anjelica Huston) who refuses to go away. In a parallel story Allen is a documentary filmmaker who falls for his attractive producer (Mia Farrow) while shooting a distasteful project that he sabotages out of juvenile pique. The bittersweet turns simply bitter as it builds towards the climax, but even amidst all the emotional damage, Allen still finds a spark of hope. It’s one of his masterpieces. Sven Nykvist shoots the film with a mix of warmth and remove. And remember: if it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it’s not funny. Features Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.

More releases on Blu-ray and DVD, including Darkman (Shout Factory), The Front (Twilight Time), and Chicago: Diamond Edition (Lionsgate, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, Digital HD) at Cinephiled.

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