Tuesday, November 27, 2018

#678: Two English Girls

1971, TSPDT Rank #842

With Two English Girls, François Truffaut returned to the fertile territory that he had mined almost a decade earlier with one of his best films, Jules and Jim. Like that masterpiece, Two English Girls tells the story of three friends whose relationship becomes fractured by the development of a love triangle. It was also adapted by the only other complete novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, the author of the novel that Jules and Jim was based on, and ostensibly the prototype for both Claude and Jim. So it's impossible to keep from comparing the two films, but their approaches are different in more than ways than one. For one thing, Two English Girls inverts the characters' genders: instead of two male friends and their ideal woman, we have two sisters and a man caught between them. Maybe because of this, there is less room in this story for the peaceful menage a trois situation seen in Jules and Jim. This relationship is much more fraught and tenuous, each side struggling to get off the ground, with one side sent crashing down to earth whenever the other begins to take flight.

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This film also trades the poignant immediacy of Jules and Jim for a more reserved and nostalgic sense of melancholia. Truffaut set the film at the turn of the 20th century, conjuring a lost era and a forgotten set of moral and romantic attitudes. The only slightly later setting of Jules and Jim is belied by its energetic New Wave style and the youthful rendering of its characters, whereas here Truffaut was more successful in conveying the perspective of an older man looking back wistfully on a painful youth. The visuals are some of the most sumptuous ever captured by Truffaut - together with cinematographer Nester Alamandros, he created an impressionistic world which makes watching the film feel like stepping into a painting -  the colors more vivid than life and the action onscreen unfolding like a distant dream. However, like in Jules and Jim, the feeling that love and pain are tied together is inescapable. For Truffaut, the memories of youth can be as painful as they are beautiful.

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