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Two in the Wave is an interesting, nicely-appointed but somewhat standoffish documentary about the friendship between the two top exponents of the French New Wave. Writer Antoine de Baecque certainly knows his subject and director Emmanuel Laurent gives the show quite a bit of flash, resulting in a brisk overview of birth of the the New Wave. Although appointed with an excellent array of film clips and news footage documenting Francois' and Jean-Luc's adventures as film critics-turned film directors, the movie lacks a personal connection to the two men. We read a couple of letters covering the eventual breakdown of their close twenty-year friendship, but the film leaves us wanting to know more.
Cleverly assembled and appointed with a wealth of key film clips, Two in the Wave mainly uses writings by Godard and Truffaut to flesh out the details of their lives. Although both men define themselves as completely dedicated to and motivated by film, Truffaut began life as a juvenile delinquent, eventually serving a short prison term as a civilian as well as time for deserting as a soldier. Finding their friendship as they haunted the Cinematheque Francaise in the late 1940s, they drifted into film criticism as disciples of the critic André Bazin, the editor of Cahiers du Cinéma. When a popular article referred to France's "new youth" as "a new wave", the term was carried over to films by a group of new filmmakers. What united these former critics was their outspoken opinions about the deadening effect of the tradition of "quality French filmmaking".
Both critics broke into the directing racket after making several short films. Truffaut found a producer for his The 400 Blows, which had an enormous impact at Cannes; he helped his friend to shoot his first film and the next year's festival sensation was Godard's Breathless. Only months previously the "boys" were condemning the Cannes festival as an irrelevant pageant for has-beens. Now they were taking over the system.
The film sticks so closely to comparing and contrasting the directors' career moves that we learn little about their personal lives. Godard's muse and spouse Anna Karina is barely touched upon and we hear next to nothing about Truffaut's colorful (to say the least) love life. De Becque's script establishes them as tough critics without really explaining that their group took control of French film culture by demolishing the work of older directors. Godard, Truffaut and other Cahiers critics lionized certain big talents that they felt were creatively alive or consistently cinematic (Renoir, Hitchcock, Hawks) and trumpeted new Hollywood rebels like Nicholas Ray and Robert Aldrich. But they made news and secured careers by condemning previous generations of French filmmakers to the rubbish heap.
The docu does explain that G & T's initial success was short-lived. Some of their subsequent pictures failed miserably at the box office; theatergoers wouldn't tolerate some of Godard's patchy, confrontational efforts. Truffaut eventually established himself closer to the mainstream, in a sense betraying his own rebellion. Godard continued to make clever and funny experiments for a small audience, succeeding only because the pictures cost next to nothing to produce. Two in the Wave makes use of many feature film clips but never embraces the full appeal of these New Wave masterpieces. When the films were good they were sublime. Director Laurent concentrates on the usual shots of Jean-Paul Belmondo imitating Bogart, or in-joke details where Godard seems to be making fun of Truffaut.
Just when we think Two in the Wave will pursue some real insights into its director subjects, it settles for familiar issues. A major topic is the actor Jean-Pierre Leaud, the young star of The 400 Blows who grew up in Truffaut's films and also worked for Godard. Although obviously close to both of the filmmakers, we don't find out much of what Leaud thinks. The film instead proposes the theme that Leaud is the 'adopted son' of Godard and Truffaut, presuming that the two directors can be pigeonholed into some kind of cinematic marriage. This of course only exists in the public's pairing of them as the best-known exponents of the New Wave.
The movie spends time on Jean-Pierre Leaud's career but offers no insights about Godard's political evolution and his embrace of Marxism; there's little hint of the radical content that was taking over his movies, pushing out his earlier carefree playfulness. The show instead cuts directly to both directors championing the political firing of Henri Langlois, the head of the Cinematheque. Then the two are seen shutting down the 1968 Cannes film festival in support of the May strikers. Two in the Wave gives us no political background to these moves; Truffaut and Godard are characterized as good buddies that drifted apart solely over their opinions about each others' choice of film subjects. By the time 1970 rolled around Godard's film were pure political agitprop with precious little entertainment value. The men stopped being on speaking terms after a back & forth exchange of insulting letters.
After an opening that promises to provide a much wider context of the French film scene, Two in the Wave narrows its view to the two talented directors and then doesn't give us much of an idea of what they were like. Although packed with handsome imagery and assembled with a tasteful graphic sense, the show is not interview-based. We hear nothing from any of the hundreds of French film professionals who worked with Truffaut and Godard. We instead see them in various news film interview situations, providing quick sound bites or (in the case of Godard) playing games with the media. The docu is at its most successful in its chapters on the filmmaker's early successes ... from then on, it's a gallery of news film, stills and film clips strung together with an inadequate text. We have to think that Truffaut and Godard are more complex, and yet less mysterious, than Two in the Wave lets on.
Lorber Films' DVD of Two in the Wave is an excellent enhanced transfer of this well-received documentary. Formatted at 1:78 widescreen, it accommodates the various flat and widescreen aspect ratios of its film clips without cropping original compositions. The disc contains no extras. Viewers unfamiliar with the filmmakers will certainly find the movie interesting, but the level of investigation never approaches the excitement of the interviews and other extras on various Criterion Collection releases. For instance, Two in the Wave barely even mentions cameraman Raoul Coutard, who creatively should be standing shoulder to shoulder with his director-collaborators. Ten minutes listening to Coutard explain his working relationship with Jean-Luc Godard will realign all of one's film school notions about the young genius director.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Two in the Wave rates:
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