Why you should care
A charming ditty full of complication and joy, and forboding doom.
Pooja Bhatia is an OZY editor and writer. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Economist, and was once the mango-eating champion of Port-au-Prince.
In Jules and Jim, Jules is a diffident, gentle soul, while Jim is a dark-haired Lothario. In the loose and innocent years before the First World War, they become inseparable. A bohemian friendship blossoms in Parisian cafes and streets, amid talk of poetry and philosophy and attempts to pick up women. Swarthy Jim has a much better hit rate than the sweet, wide-eyed Jules.
When they encounter the Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), with her enigmatic, serene smile, surprise! It’s gentle Jules who stakes a claim on her. “Not this one, Jim,” he warns his friend. For a time the three make a handsome trio, partners in crime. They foment a thick overlay of joy atop some serious complications. The complications — Catherine’s instability, all of their hubris, a child and the war — will doom almost all of them.
The song might be the most memorable two minutes of the movie, and yet it was never intended to be sung outside a private circle of friends.
But before all that comes a musical interlude, “Le Tourbillon de la Vie.” Catherine sings it to the men, accompanied by her sometime lover, Albert (Serge Rezvani), on guitar, while they’re all at the countryside home she shares with Jules. As the song begins, the camera shows Jules and Jim, to the right, studying Catherine; then the camera itself studies her. She appears girlish. Her hair is in a ponytail, and she’s wearing a striped sweater and flouncy white skirt. But when the camera focuses on her face, you can see some stray eyeliner, half-moon shadows under her eyes, a little nervousness. She’s charming and beautiful and also a bit unhinged.
The lyrics concern lovers that separate and reunite, over and over, in the “whirlwind of life.”
When you’ve known each other,
When you’ve known each other again,
Why lose sight of each other?
Why lose sight of each other again?
When you’ve found each other again,
When you’ve warmed each other again,
Why then separate?
(It sounds better in French.)
The song might be the most memorable two minutes of the movie, and yet it was never intended to be sung outside a private circle of friends. Rezvani, the actor who plays Albert, wrote the song for Moreau, a friend in real life, and her then-husband, Jean-Louis Richard. They were all great friends, and Moreau and Richard had an on-again, off-again relationship. For his part, Rezvani was neither actor nor singer — he could play a few chords on the guitar — but rather a painter.
Still, when shooting for Jules et Jim hit a rough patch, the director, Francois Truffaut, suggested they spend the day singing as a way to regain momentum. Truffaut was so captivated by the song, which fit the mood of the film, that he decided to include it. And the rest was, as they say, histoire. As Moreau told it, in 2002, “It is amazing that this song, composed well before Jules et Jim and for a totally different story, has become the symbol of the film — and almost of Francois Truffaut himself.”