Two in the Wave -- Film Review



Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the French New Wave, a milestone that has stimulated retrospectives and tributes around the world. In keeping with this anniversary, director Emmanuel Laurent has produced a documentary, "Two in the Wave," focusing on the relationship between the two dominant auteurs of the New Wave, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.

The film, which recently played at the COLCOA Festival in Los Angeles, opens by recalling the impact of the screening of Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959, the event that essentially inaugurated this seminal era in French filmmaking. Truffaut also helped to spearhead the production of Godard's "Breathless," which was released in 1960.

Sadly, the movement that began with such exhilaration ended with a bitter conflict between the two French directors. This incisive doc will prove to be catnip to film buffs, though it has very limited box office appeal beyond the festival circuit.

Screenwriter Antoine de Baecque, a former editor of Cahiers du Cinema, where Truffaut and Godard got their start as critics, has composed a rather academic narration to chart this fascinating history. But in other respects, the film is shrewdly engineered, providing a wealth of history through photographs, potent archival interviews, and a generous selection of clips from Truffaut and Godard movies,.

The two future directors met at a film club in Paris in 1949. Their backgrounds were actually quite different. Truffaut came from a troubled working class background not unlike that of Antoine Doinel, his surrogate hero in "The 400 Blows." Godard came from a wealthier family, which adds an ironic note to his later embrace of Marxism. But in the early days of the French New Wave, the directors found a common bond in their antipathy toward establishment society and antiquated culture. They both joined the protest movements that swept through France in the spring of 1968. Before long, however, their paths diverged.

Truffaut began to argue that art should be apolitical, but Godard violently disagreed and moved in an increasingly radical and esoteric direction. When Godard saw "Day for Night," Truffaut's crowd-pleasing and Oscar-winning masterpiece from 1973, he wrote his former friend a letter calling him a "liar." Truffaut responded in kind, and the two men never spoke again before Truffaut's death in 1984.

While the film clips are well chosen, it's disappointing that the director often fails to identify the movies from which they are taken. (Only the most diehard cineastes will recognize every single clip.) Similarly, the director does not provide dates for the rich archival footage. In another lapse, the film reports that Jean-Pierre Leaud, who starred in several films by both Truffaut and Godard, was torn apart by his divided loyalty to his two warring father figures. But then the film drops the subject, leaving us hungry for more information about Leaud's history. Yet there are enough eye-opening revelations in this haunting doc to compensate for its unfortunate omissions.

Opens: Wed, May 19 (Lorber Films).
Director-producer: Emmanuel Laurent
Screenwriter: Antoine de Baecque
Directors of photography: Etienne de Granmont, Nick de Pencier
Editor: Marie-France Cuenot
No rating, 91 minutes