REVIEW: DVD Release: Two In The Wave

Film: Two In The Wave
Release date: 11th April 2011
Certificate: 12
Running time: 91 mins
Director: Emmanuel Laurent
Starring: Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard
Genre: Documentary
Studio: New Wave
Format: DVD
Country: France

The pioneering figures of French New Wave cinema, Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut are nothing short of legends in the world of film. Their idealistic, youthful cinema inspired generations of filmmakers, both in Europe and Hollywood. Now, director Emmanuel Laurent, once the editor of Cahiers du Cinema, brings together film archives and documents to reveal the turbulent relationship between the two men.

Grainy archive footage shows Truffaut’s seminal film, The 400 Blows, triumphing at the Cannes Film Festival. A present-day, nameless girl studies newspaper cuttings. Narrator Antoine de Baecque (also the writer) introduces, in a roundabout way, New Wave cinema and its protagonists, Truffaut and Godard. Told almost exclusively through the use of archive footage, both of the men and of their films, the documentary charts their family backgrounds, their work as critics for the Cahiers du Cinema and the relationship forged between them.

Interview clips reveal a typically French, philosophical approach to filmmaking – Godard explains how cinema blurs the lines between art and reality – and excerpts from their films, particularly The 400 Blows and Godard’s Breathless, show how their philosophy developed in their work. At this point, the two were great friends and worked closely together, often with the young actor Jean-Pierre Leaud as their muse, but de Baecque hints at the differences between them. While Godard sees cinema in a social sense, reconciling it with reality and all that goes with it, Truffaut is intent on producing a poetic narrative, a great piece of cinema, a work of art. More footage then introduces the riots which paralysed France in May 1968 and which reached to the heart of cinema, and reveals the events which led to that dramatic rupture in the New Wave movement...

The documentary aims to show the personal story behind one of the most interesting and exciting periods of French cinema. It is clear that Laurent and de Baecque (a film historian) know their subject intimately and have done their research. The sheer wealth of archive footage and the way it is woven together demonstrates this. However, the story is told so dispassionately that the viewer never feels like they get any real insight into Truffaut and Godard.

One of the problems is that the New Wave has been so well-documented, with so many books and films about it, that in order to add anything new to the subject, a documentary would have to be innovative and extraordinary. This is neither. The delivery is in a very straightforward, history-channel manner and it continues in that vein for the entire ninety minutes. This style might work in some contexts, but here, given the fact that it is discussing two non-conformist, pioneering, creative individuals, it is unintentionally ironic.

The inescapable fact is that this is a French film about French film, so has a slightly desperate air of nostalgia about it, rather than looking to be creative. Not all retrospectives feel like this, but here, although the story is about Truffaut and Godard, there is a real sense that it is looking wistfully back at the glory days of French cinema. To understand Godard’s philosophy or Truffaut’s narrative, how they worked together and what could have caused them to fall out, it would be far more powerful to watch one of their films. Their own work gives a far greater insight into them than this collection of archive footage does.

One completely baffling element of the film is the mute girl that the film cuts to every so often, with an arty close-up of her face, then of her hands turning over pages of newspaper cuttings about Truffaut and Godard. She then goes for a wander around Paris, pausing outside a cinema we later see in the archive footage. At first, her presence in the film looks like it’s taking us in a different direction, but actually she has no real purpose at all. Perhaps she is supposed to connect the viewer with the archives, therefore making them more immediate, as if her interest in the story will rub off on us. In fact, these scenes merely provoke puzzlement as to their inclusion, leaving the viewer more removed than ever.

The documentary gets some things right. The interview clips, particularly of Godard, are interesting and hook the viewer in momentarily. Equally, for viewers looking for an introduction to New Wave Cinema, the social background and its key figures, there is a lot of clearly presented, accurate information here. It just does not go that step further and add anything new or any perceptive ideas, and it lacks the lustre to make it really incisive and enjoyable. There are books which bring this movement and its personalities to life with more passion and zeal. Films about film are difficult to pull off and sadly this one does not manage it particularly well.

New Wave aficionados and die-hard fans of Truffaut and Godard will find delight in the wealth of archive footage, but as a film and a contribution to French cinema, Two In The Wave leaves a lot to be desired. KS

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