Les trois Juliets (1970)
Director: Auguste Des Jardins
Producer: Jens Dardis
Writer: Auguste Des Jardins & Jens Dardis
Juliet Delacroix
Marguerite Delacroix
Géraldine Delacroix
Sid Jendras (voice)
Music: Georges Delerue
Editing: Auguste Des Jardins
Distributor: Union Générale Cinématographique

Long considered the masterpiece of French auteur Auguste Des Jardins and overshadowing the other projects he completed before his death in 1976, Les trois Juliets reportedly came about as part of a dinner conversation about the minimum number of actors that would be required for a fantasy film. Des Jardins’ longtime paramour Nadeau Struggs argued that a large cast was necessary, while the filmmaker himself insisted that it could be made with as few as two people, which he later revised to one and a half (with the half person being a voice-only role).

The resulting film follows a lonely woman named Juliet (spelled in the English fashion rather than the more Gallic Juliette) who lives in a Montmartre hovel working an unfulfilling job after the collapse of her dream to move to Paris to become an actress. Through an inventive use of ambient sound, camera angles, and deep focus techniques, Juliet is the only person ever seen onscreen despite the bustling inner city setting. She speaks only to herself or in telephone conversations to her father (Des Jardins’ frequent leading man Sid Jendras in the aforementioned voice-only role).

Only when Juliet spies another young woman in her neighborhood who looks exactly like her does another human being appear on screen, and the meat of the film revolves around her discovery of not one but two young women who seem to share her appearance, background, and even memories (albeit with some key differences). The film plays out as an extended metaphysical meditation with the occasional moments of levity as the three young ladies, each presided over by a father on the telephone that may or may not be the same man and is evasive in his answers. The ambiguous ending, which can be interpreted as a suicide, a merger of the three Juliets into one, or a belated agreement to live their lives as if they had never met, is still cited as an influence by filmmakers to this day.

One noteworthy piece of trivia revolves around the casting. While Jendras is clearly and unmistakably the telephone voice, the situation with the three credited actresses (Juliet, Marguerite, and Géraldine Delacroix) is much murkier. Des Jardins himself claimed that he had happened upon a set of triplets of the proper age and appearance purely by chance (and counted the three as one as a “clever trick” vis-a-vis the original wager). Nadeau Struggs and many critics disagree, insisting that it was a single person filmed with camera tricks, with the reason for the farce cited as a liaison between the star and the director with a triple credit for triple pay (Struggs, for her part, did concede the wager). No triplets Delacroix have ever been located, and Des Jardins’ insistence that the girl or girls weren’t professional actors has made the topic an occasional cause of friction among cineastes. None of the three girls have been seen in public since accepting various awards in 1971.

That point aside, the film is and remains widely popular among devotees of minimalist and fantasy cinema; Kubrick and Tarkovsky both lavished the film with praise and an English language remakes were released to lukewarm reviews in 1977 (Three Juliettes) and 2003 (The Three Juliettes), both notably using the French spelling of “Juliette” rather than Des Jardins’ preferred “Juliet.”

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