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Two in the Wave is the story of a friendship. Jean-Luc Godard was born in 1930; Francois Truffaut two years later. Love of movies brings them together. They write in the same magazines, Cahiers du Cinema and Arts. When the younger of the two becomes a filmmaker with "The 400 Blows", which triumphs in Cannes in 1959, he helps his older friend shift to directing, offering him a screenplay which already has a title, A bout de souffle, or Breathless. Through the 1960s the two loyally support each other. History and politics separate them in 1968, when Godard plunges into radical politics but Truffaut continues his career as before. Between the two of them, the actor Jean-Pierre Leaud is torn like a child caught between two separated and warring parents. Their friendship and their break-up embody the story of French cinema. Written by
For Godard fans, and probably Truffaut fans as well, a documentary about their friendship, generously illustrated with clips from their movies, sounds like manna from heaven. Godard famously said, "All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl." A gun was definitely needed preferably to shoot the director before he made this.
Not that the history of these two seminal filmmakers, their initial close friendship, and later parting over fierce artistic differences shouldn't be told. Perhaps it should. To examine those differences or even analysing the individual greatness of Godard and Truffaut. To show how they were originally so close, rather than a chummy accident. Such would be a service to those who love their work, to those approaching it for the first time, as a suitable section of a sixth-form media studies, or even a pleasant half hour TV documentary. That the present offering would look out of place even as a DVD extra is not only a condemnation of its artistic integrity, but singularly odd as some will take it almost as a besmirchment of the great traditions that Godard and Truffaut spearheaded.
Of the many expositions of the two key movies many would identify as kick-starting the French New Wave, Breathless (Godard) and The 400 Blows (Truffaut), this documentary competes for the prize of leaving the viewer with even less information than they probably came in with. An uninspired commentary gives little mention of the innovative styles and techniques, clips seem to be used at random (and often poorly at that). At best it offers the sort of history you could get in five minutes from Wikipedia. We hear much about their love of movies but with only the most superficial of clues as to why, the particular intellectual passions and insights that might distinguish them from the most moribund of cinema-goers. We have, in short, no analysis. No descriptive observation. Merely occasional waffle. Emmanuel Laurent's Two in the Wave had its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and richly recalled a similarly mediocre film from the year before, For the Love of Movies, the Story of American Film Criticism. The target audiences in both cases would be people who are avid filmgoers and want to learn or experience something deeper about the subject matter. Godard is an example of a great critic who became a great filmmaker overnight. Simply put, Laurent isn't.
Of the things I couldn't help but enjoy though, were the scenes from the movies. I managed to identify most of them, and playing 'spot the clip' gave me something to do while tuning out commentary that narcissistically imagines it is doing me a great service - even with its room temperature IQ. But what of other viewers? For an introduction to the men and their work, shouldn't the films have been identified? Or at least the relevant techniques highlighted by commentary? As an example, the back of my mind recalls a tracking shot in a clip being shown that has a jump cut. Some moments after (not before or during) the jump-cut, but immediately before switching to another film clip, the commentator says how . . . 'they were setting out to destroy the notion that you can't jump-cut while tracking.' The clip that then begins, immediately after this apparently sensible remark, is from À bout de soufflé: a film particularly famous for its use of jump-cuts. Let's watch and see which sequence they use! Mmmm . . . not a tracking shot for a start . . . and the cuts in this particular piece of film (in a moving car) are of the traditional kind. I feel one has to be particularly careful if ever making damning criticism, but this is just shoddy film technique from Laurent. I search for the section using a digital copy of the film at the festival press centre, just to be sure I made no mistake. I hadn't. The commentary refers to something you would easily miss, simply because the footage is on screen before the voice-over, and the choice and positioning of screen clips would lead any normal viewer to believe they were about to see the point made in the following section which turned out to be either a bad example or irrelevant.
Fortunately a film about Godard would struggle to be all bad. Two in the Wave comes alive in the clips of interviews with Godard himself. Apart from seeing his movies, it is one of the best ways of getting insights into them. Additionally, Godard speaks as passionately in word and deed as he does at 24 frames per second. He can probably tell us more about film-making in five minutes than all the pompous drivel that is wasted by many of the writers filling books (or in this case film) on his works. (There are many notable exceptions, though some of my favourites include writers, WW Dixon and David Sterritt and to be fair, I also suspect Laurent is capable of much better than this if he just leaves the camera at home).
Another morsel of worth was the inclusion of student riot footage, which was better than average. And helps to illustrate the rebellions against what was seen as Gaullist repression of the arts (among other things) and artistic freedom of expression generally.
A bigger shortcoming is the lightweight manner in which Godard and Truffaut's disagreement is handled, since their friendship is the film's primary stated remit. The best one can gather is that Godard was somehow interested in using film for political ends, whereas Truffaut was concerned with film as fine art, or art for art's sake. While this is correct as far as I understand it, it would have been a great opportunity to examine the arguments over which they found such passionate disagreement.
Sadly Two in the Wave is little more than a pretentious fanzine-style offering, couched in deceptively cultured tones.
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