Francois Truffaut, who made The 400 Blows, one of the top New Wave pix, has put together a tender tale [from the novel by Henri-Pierre Roche] that avoids mawkishness and impropriety in treating the lives of two friends who are mixed up with a woman they share. One is a Frenchman, the other an Austrian and the girl is French. Plot covers from 1912 until about 1930.
It depends more on atmosphere, insight into characters and emotions than on story values. Truffaut has shrewdly employed the physiques and characters of his principles sans exploting them. Jeanne Moreau is exceptional as the headstrong girl, Catherine, who never quite finds what she wants. The husband is done in a vein of rumpled honesty and dignity by Oskar Werner.
The three are shown at their first meeting in a frilly 1912 Paris, with Jules (Werner) winning the girl but Jim (Henri Serre) holding aloof, though attracted. The first war comes and goes, and Werner marries the girl and takes her to live in Austria.
Serre comes to visit them and finally has a love fling with Moreau, now also a mother. Werner accepts this new situation as he has accepted all of her desires. They then drift apart and back.
Truffaut has a light touch for evoking moods, time, place and desires. Its forthright attempt to grasp life sometimes makes it uneven. But, overall, this is a candid entry. Truffaut uses the scope screen well.