Filled with some of the most famous images of the nouvelle vague, François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962) is one of the most recognisable and celebrated French films ever made. Based on Henri-Pierre Roché’s 1953 novel, it’s one of Truffaut’s most visually ambitious films, using an array of cross-continent settings to tell his yearning narrative.
Charting the dramatic love triangle between shy Austrian Jules (Oskar Werner), outlandish Frenchman Jim (Henri Serre) and the centre of both of their affections, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), the film follows the various stages of their friendships, loves and jealousies, until finally concluding with tragedy, as many of Truffaut’s love stories do.
Although a great deal of the film is shot around France, often masquerading as other countries, its most memorable scenes and visuals are those in Paris. Truffaut chose his locations carefully, staying true to the period setting of the film while still exemplifying the modern energy that was driving French cinema in the early 1960s.
Here are four Parisian locations from Jules et Jim as they stand today, as well as one location conundrum.
The houses where the characters stay throughout the film define where we are in terms of the love triangle. Early on, the initial ambiguity is expressed in the most bohemian terms in a beautiful Parisian house called Villa Ottoz in Belleville.
The building was a haven for writers and artists for a number of years before being demolished in the 1970s. Today, an echo of its steep garden can be discerned in the Parc de Belleville, which was built where the house stood. The house’s vast gates can also still be seen on Rue Piat.
During the film, Jim is seen wandering Paris. In one of the more identifiable fragments, he can be seen walking by the picturesque Passerelle de la Mare on Rue de la Mare in Belleville. The railway tracks of La Petite Ceinture underneath are now famously overgrown and a popular area for walking, while the bridge itself has recently undergone a refurbishment.
The shot follows Jim into a house that stood on Rue de la Mare. The whole area has since been redeveloped and the old houses were replaced long ago by huge housing blocks.
In the film’s finale, Truffaut shows us a cremation, the ashes being placed into a columbarium, and Jules wandering off down the steep incline of a graveyard. For many years, this was thought to be Père-Lachaise cemetery, due to both its famous columbarium and the graveyard’s notable incline. However, after a great deal of time spent wandering the cemetery, it became clear that either Père-Lachaise has had a huge amount of restructuring in the intervening years or, in fact, Truffaut shot the scene somewhere else.
There are no walkways near it that match up, and its design is totally different to the building in the shot. The closest aspect I could find that resembled the shot is a hillside further down from the cemetery, nearer the chapel. However, this also feels only vaguely like the location in the film, and other aspects in Truffaut’s pan as he follows Jules fail to match up with the features of the graveyard today. Perhaps Truffaut found some forgotten nook in the graveyard for his shot, but it proved impossible to find.
Into the water
In another of the film’s famous sequences, Catherine jumps into the Seine at night. The sequence was shot by the Pont au Double on the pathways in the shadow of Notre-Dame. The first shot, of Catherine looking back toward Jules and Jim, is by the steps leading down to the water. Today, a local company operate their tourist cruises here.
As Catherine initially walks along the edge, Truffaut cuts to a shot taken underneath the bridge. The steps leading up to Quai de Montebello can be seen behind. It’s still one of the quieter spots of this generally hectic area.
As Catherine jumps in, Truffaut places a camera way out above the water – though it’s difficult to tell how this was achieved (a boat or crane, perhaps). The location is virtually unchanged, in particular the beautiful structure of the Pont au Double that Truffaut resists filming in detail.
The film’s most famous sequence shows the trio racing each other over a bridge. The publicity shot of this sequence has become one of the most recognisable images of the French New Wave. The bridge in question is the Passerelle de Valmy, a footbridge over the lines snaking out from Gare de Lyon. Before the race, we see the trio walk down the steps leading from where Avenue Winston Churchill meets Rue Marius Delcher. The first set of stone steps still survives today.
The actual bridge itself has since been replaced by a newer, less photogenic one across the railway lines. It is also higher up. The contract between the location then and now are stark.
After their race, the trio meander down the other side of the bridge onto Place de Valmy and what is now Rue de l’Entrepôt. Again, the stairs have been replaced but they follow the same shape and pattern as the originals, even if their design is far from the romantic world once envisioned by Truffaut.
Jules et Jim is back in cinemas from 4 February 2022.
François Truffaut: For the Love of Films runs across the UK in January and February 2022.