Two in the Wave

A history of la nouvelle vague as it sloshed around its two principal figures, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Directed by documentarian Emmanuel Laurent and written and narrated by film historian, Cahiers du Cinéma critic, and Truffaut biographer Antoine de Baecque, the film begins with Truffaut’s Les Quatre cents Coups winning the Palme d’Or, and from there moves to Godard’s À bout de souffle and the ups and downs of various other filmmakers and key works of the period. (Godard and Truffaut remain front-and-centre, however.)

Although the film—adroitly compiled from many hours’ worth of archival footage—focuses largely on the two key figures, their place in the movement and their power as filmmakers and critics is magnetic enough to have anyone else important be caught up in their orbit. The documentary’s scant coverage of Godard’s didactic, easily discarded post-May ’68 work might disappoint some viewers, but this isn’t what the film aims to talk about—and makes up for this by looking at the brief but vitrolic correspondence between the two after Godard stormed out of a screening of Truffaut’s 1974 film La Nuit Américaine that would eventually sever their relationship. (Truffaut: “You act like a shit. I don’t give a damn what you think of Day for Night. But what I do find pathetic on your part is that, even now, you go to films like that when you know very well in advance they don’t match your idea of cinema or your idea of life. It’s my turn to call you a liar.”)

The filmmakers have relatively unknown actress Isild Le Besco flipping through old photograph albums, looking through newspaper clippings, and traipsing around Paris (visiting the Cinémathèque, et cetera) in our stead, as if just showing us these places or putting the photos and articles up on the screen isn’t enough. She’s not directly related to anyone the film discusses—which would be the only good reason for her appearance—and the credits have her ‘starring’ in the film, which is absurd because she doesn’t say or do anything. Laurent’s explanation (in the press kit interview) for ‘casting’ her is that he wanted to create “a connection between the filmmakers’ youth and the youth of our time.” Why, then, would he not have her introduce (or “host”) the documentary? Baecque’s simplistically written, drily and timidly delivered narration seems deliberately superficial, glossing over the motivations (political and otherwise) of the film’s subjects, and the radical construction and profound impact of their work.

The film’s conceit that Jean-Pierre Léaud is a sort of cinematic love-child of Godard and Truffaut—that he grew up with the New Wave, playing the character of Antoine Doinel, nurtured by cinema and cinéastes—is novel and fascinating, and reaches its apex at film’s close, when he’s positioned as a child torn asunder by a messy divorce. Liberal use of passages (and sometimes whole scenes) from key nouvelle vague films and later entries in Truffaut and Godard’s filmographies accounts for much of the documentary’s 93-minute run time; had this footage been judiciously pared down as it should have been, the result could have (for example) ably occupied a spot as an extra feature on a Blu-ray release from an art-house label. As is, Two in the Wave is a passable but overlong introduction for those who know nothing at all of the history of (French) cinema. (A shorter version by half would be great for high-school students, for example.) For anyone else, though—and particularly for those who have anything more than a cursory knowledge of the subject—there’s very little here to discover.

Two in the Wave is now out on DVD through Madman.

The documentary’s theatrical trailer is the only special feature.