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'Two in the Wave'/'Deux de la vague' is a gossipy French documentary
about Jean Luc Godard and Françcois Truffaut with lots of period
footage, "making of" clips and interviews especially. The Wave of
course is La Nouvelle Vague, the movie revolution of the Fifties and
Sixties those two directors are famously associated with. No sweeping
analysis of the movement or its varied contributors, this is more a
quick overview of the New Wave's early days with a focus on the style
and contributions of those two key figures and the rise and fall of
their friendship. It declined after the upheavals of 1968 and ended
sharply in 1973 when Godard dismissed Truffaut after a visit to the set
of 'Day for Night' as too unpolitical and Truffaut wrote Godard a
letter calling him a "sh-t director."
The title's a bit of a misnomer, though. "Three in the Wave" would have been as good, since toward the end Jean-Pierre Léaud, Truffaut's alter ego as "Antoine Doinel" from his seminal 400 Blows on, becomes an almost equally important, if mysterious, figure. The documentary, seemingly out of material about Truffaut (dead since 1984) and Godard (whose films are little noticed since the Sixties -- despite his having one in the current Cannes Festival) shifts to Léaud and describes how his work for both directors kept him from losing himself too much in "Antoine Doinel." De Gaulle Culture Minister André Malraux also is featured -- both as a godfather -- he gave his blessing to The 400 Blows' winning at Cannes, the New Wave's seminal moment, its first big success, and thus "representing France"-- and as a repressive force, when he tried to oust the French Cinématèque director Henri Langlois.
The film chronicles how filmmakers, actors, and students demonstrated to save Langlois' position in February 1968, anticipating the revolutionary moment of Paris 1968 by three months. This action is a focus of Bertolucci's The Dreamers.
A number of clips of Truffaut and Léaud show their close relationship, and there are more shots of Léaud at various stages of life than of any other person. The film ends with his screen test at 14, an image ab ovo, as it were, symbolizing the movement's eternal youth, as do a number of bright new-looking clips of Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in 'Breathless.' Nothing earthshaking here, no new discoveries, but a good introduction, the sort of thing a teacher could use in a film survey to introduce the class to French mid-century cinema. Particularly relevant to such an audience would be the way this film outlines the New Wave/Cahier du Cinéma crowd's debt to older directors like Nick Ray, Howard Hawks, Hitchcock (whom Truffaut did a book of interviews on), Fritz Lang (interviewed b Godard here), and so on. But deep research and searching analysis of stylistic and intellectual differences that may have existed from the start are lacking in this film.
Plenty of archival material goes into Two in the Wave -- so much that to take account of and justify its presence shots of Isild Le Besco reading old magazines are interspersed throughout, though oddly, her voice is only used once or twice, and her presence is so unnecessary you wonder if she's somebody's girlfriend. There is also footage of Cannes 1959, when Les quatre cents coups won. Godard's first film, 'Breathless',' was also popular and there is footage of Paris movei-goers delivering a range of quick opinions outside the theater when the film was first shown. A restored print of 'Breathless' is to begin a commercial release in New York (May 28, 2010) for its 50th anniversary. After 'The 400 Blows' and 'Breathless' several of the directors' films bombed; the ascendancy of the La Nouvelle Vague seemed brief; it went on, of course.
There are lots of quick clips of films by both directors to review their careers during the New Wave's heyday -- too many and too quick to make real sense of. For a while bits of interviews make this seem like a debate between Truffaut and Godard, but it comes to seem that Godard is going to get the last word. Except that the older Godard is little covered, and as mentioned, it's really the young Jean-Pierre Léaud who gets to speak in the very last frames. On Allociné Antoine de Baecque is listed as co-director of this film. De Baecque is a prolific writer on film, including the Nouvelle Vague, and biographer of Truffaut and more recently Godard, who wrote and narrated most of the film.
Released May 19, 2010 at Film Forum in New York; not yet released in France. The cleaned up 'Breathless' also debuts here. NY Times film critic A.O. Scott has written a piece called "A Fresh Look Back at Right Now" (May 21, 2010) about the continuing relevance of Godard's first feature, right up to Tarantino and beyond. Too bad this film doesn't go further in that direction.
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.
My summary is not meant as harsh criticism--it's just a fact that this
film has limited appeal to the average viewer. The average person out
there simply doesn't care about terms like 'New Wave' or artistic
differences between directors--they just want to be entertained. So, if
you just want to be entertained, you'll find this tough going and if
you are a cinephile, you'll probably get more out of this.
The film is about the French New Wave movement--and in particular, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. While there were certainly other New Wave directors (such as Resnais, Rohmer and Chabrol), the film focuses in on these two for several reasons. First, they were among the most vocal and important New Wave directors--sort of like the prophets for the New Wave god. Second, their relationship, over time, changed--going from close friends and guys who respected each other's work to arch-rivals.
The documentary is filled with TONS of clips of New Wave films--not just of the two subjects but most of the New Wave directors (I say 'most' because some, such as Melville, are omitted). For fans of the style, it's a great chance to relive memories of great films. What the film lacks, however, are interviews. While Truffaut died long ago, there certainly are many others who I would like to have heard from but the film instead is just film clips and narration. Because of this, it's all a bit frustrating. It's also a bit frustrating because the break between the two directors seemed a bit vague--as if a bit rushed and not explained adequately. I understood this section a bit better than most (having seen and reviewed a gazillion films), but just thought it could have and should have been more clear. Overall, interesting for some but also a bit short and perhaps lacking depth.
Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard are the two most prominent film
makers from the era of New Wave (Nouvelle Vague)a movement that not
only revolutionized French film but world cinema. It was more than a
wave, it was a Tsunami. In England the Kitchen Sink movement copied
it's style. In NYC, Indy filmmakers took to the lower Manhattan streets
like Godard did along the Champs Ellyses. In Hollywood it
revolutionized the industry and the art form that would lead to its
final golden era of the century. Their shadow indeed looms large over
the history of cinema.
More gossipy than analytical (and that's just fine given the mountains of material that already exists on Wave theory) Two in the Wave fleshes out through interviews the personalities, the friendship and the discord that ended their collaboration. Ironically, it was Truffaut banned by the establishment from attending Cannes for his incendiary attack as a critic on the French Film Industry only to triumphantly return a year later as a film maker with a winning entry ( The 400 Blows) who incurred the wrath of Godard for going establishment as his star rose.
Before this though we have the two friends sharing an unquenchable passion for film making the groundbreaking Breathless together followed up by a series of highly original and fresh works on their own such as Jules and Jim, Les Carabaniers, Weekend and the Doinel series. There are interviews with key players involved in the movement including actor Jean Pierre Leaud who had roles in many of their films and counted both as friends.
As mentioned earlier Truffaut drifted back into the mainstream with some medium cool efforts before his early demise (54) while Godard continued to remain off beat resulting in both commercial and critical oblivion over the next thirty years. All rather anti-climactic for a pair of intellectual rebels who stood the world of cinema on its ear over half a century earlier. Two for the Wave is worth a look if just to get a feel for a major milestone in the art of film and the two men who were its superstars.
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