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The Netflix series “Emily in Paris.” Season two. Episode four. Emily has fallen in love with the boyfriend of Camille, her best French pal. A male friend, Luc, takes Emily to Le Champo, the famous art film house, to see the 1962 French movie classic “Jules and Jim.”
The movie is about a romantic triangle among free spirits: Two men love the same woman, but they all live together. As Emily and Luc leave the theater, an annoyed Emily asks him why he took her to a movie about a menage a trots.
Luc responds, “You can relate, no?” The episode is titled “Jules and Em.”
The parallel, however, is way off. The relationships in “Jules and Jim” couldn’t be more different. Director Francois Truffaut has replaced the common romantic dilemma of one lover torn between two with a triangle where all sides are equal. Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) may share her sexual passion with both Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre), but that in no way separates the two men.
Though they love the same woman, Jules and Jim love each other in an even stronger liaison of friendship. Note that the movie title is the names of the two men, with the woman’s left out.
The men’s deep ties survive more than Catherine’s many infidelities. They survive World War I when the Frenchman Jim and the Austrian Jules fight on different sides. Jim later remarks that though France “won,” the real winners were Jules and him for surviving the carnage. In one of the most touching movie lines ever, Jim expresses the horror that he could have killed Jules on the battlefield.
The Sexual Revolution, launched around the same time as the movie, has run through the birth control pill, Masters and Johnson, wife swapping, the “hookup culture,” the growing acceptance of same sex relationships, casual group sex and the porn explosion. But little focus has been placed on the true menage as portrayed in “Jules and Jim.”
That’s perhaps why a 60th anniversary tribute to the movie on the BBC website was headlined: “Jules and Jim: The relationship that’s still taboo.” Adultery is no longer a shocking subject. Love triangles have been around forever. But two men loving and sleeping with the same woman and not having a problem with it? That’s still shocking. And bear in mind that neither Jules nor Jim harbored any doubt about his masculinity.
As the writer Gregory Wakeman notes, “Rather than Jules, Jim and Catherine constantly being wrought with drama and tension over the fact that they all love each other equally, they’re able to discuss their feelings and motivations in a brutally honest and refreshingly intellectual fashion.”
Isn’t this scenario supposed to end in bloodshed? Where are the guns, knives or bombs typically rolled onto movies about infidelity? The only violence here comes at the hands of Catherine and of war.
This uniqueness is seen in the inaccurate descriptions of the story. HBO Max, for example, sums up the theme as “a tempestuous beauty comes between two friends.” Again, that’s not what happens. The two friends share the beautiful woman rather than let anything come between them. And the only discontented and angry participant is Catherine, the one who gets to choose the sexual partner.
Clearly, Emily’s triangle is conventional in a way that the threesome in “Jules and Jim” is not. Her friend Camille is red-hot mad about Emily hooking up with her guy — and not about to share him out of amity with her American buddy.
Can we characterize a friendship trumping sexual jealousy as “taboo”? Well, it certainly puts sex in its place.