Genderfuck Crush: Catherine

04Jun09
“You said, ‘I love you,’ I said, ‘Wait.’ I was going to say, ‘Take me,’ you said, ‘Go away.'”
– Catherine, ‘Jules et Jim’

Although [Jules et Jim] is named for the men, its animating force is Catherine, a creature both utterly timeless…and forever changing…claiming for herself the reckless male freedoms that women have been traditionally denied. Time and again, she literally dresses herself in the garb of masculinity.

On paper, the mercurial Catherine seems an implausibly grandiose conception, a woman both giddy and tragic, protofeminist and male-dominated, driven by Eros and Thanatos, love and death. But as played by Jeanne Moreau, a pop-eyed siren with the ferocity of Bette Davis and the kitty-cat wiles of Tuesday Weld, Catherine becomes one of the modern movies’ triumphant characterizations—the anima as autocrat. Whether playing with vitriol or jumping into the Seine, she elevates capriciousness to an existential principle. When Jim says he understands her, she replies, “I don’t want to be understood.” And this is absolutely true. The movie lives in the shuddering distance between Catherine’s imperious, doomed physicality and the two men’s shifting perceptions of her, perceptions that rearrange but never destroy their glowing friendship.
– John Powers, “On ‘Jules and Jim'”

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