Monday, May 17, 2010

Laurent/De Baecque's TWO IN THE WAVE tracks the Truffaut/Godard relationship

If you're a film buff of a certain age (say, 50 and up), there's not a chance you won't want to see the new French docu-
mentary TWO IN THE WAVE. Produced and directed by Emmanuel Laurent (below, left) and written and narrated by Antoine De Baecque (below, right), the film tells of the very close relationship between two icons of the French New Wave -- Francois Truffaut (on the poster, at right) and Jean-Luc Godard (poster, left), which went south as the two men grew older.

For those of us who pretty much cut our serious movie-going teeth by nibbling on the New Wave (The 400 Blows was released in the US at the end of 1959; Breathless made its American debut at the beginning of 1961) and have continued with our passion since then, this film will be, I suspect, both provocative and disappointing -- the former because of our interest in and fascination with both figures, the latter because, for all the information provided here, not much of it strikes me as all that new or revealing -- not, at least, if you have kept up with things over the passing years.

Still, the history we see and hear via old newsreels, and the clips we watch from many of the films of the two men (and others: Rouch, Bergman, Demy, Varda) will not fail to fascinate and may interest you in seeing some of these works again (younger viewers for the first time). I have no idea which of the two filmmakers our documentarians prefer (or even if they have a preference), but it seemed to me that the warmth of Truffaut and the iciness of Godard come through quite well here. Or maybe it's just that the latter is so... "aloof."

In any case, the bitter falling-out that occurred after the students protests of  May '68 (and was already fomenting, according to Laurent and De Baecque), was never to be healed, at least not in Truffaut's lifetime. The documentary does not really give much meaning to this rift, other than these two seminal film-makers did not care for each other's later work.  After collaborating quite successfully on Breathless (for which Truffaut is rarely given much credit: he gave the original story to Godard), the two filmmakers seemed bent on going their own cinematic way, with much more popular success coming to Truffaut.

The most interesting part of the film deals with actor Jean-Pierre Leaud (above): Truffaut's Antonie Doinel and Godard's leading man in several movies.  Leaud, now in his mid-60s, clearly felt buffeted by the directors' dispute and seems a bit lost without one of his mentors.

Probably the silliest and certainly the most unnecessary aspect of the documentary is the use of that fine actress Isild Le Besco.  I'm such a fan of her work that I could easily be pleased by her reading the proverbial phone book.  Here she is given the visual equivalent of that: Without uttering a word, she simply looks through the pages of books, magazine articles and newspaper clippings of what appears to be the very history that we are being treated to. Do the filmmakers want us to see ourselves in Ms Le Besco?  Or is she some sort of stand-in for the research work that they have done.  Yes or no, so what?   Her presence adds some feminine appeal to the film, which, besides the quick snips of the twosome's leading ladies, has almost none (it's all the guys, guys, guys), but still, this is a screwy way to provide it.

Yet as a walk down film-buff memory lane, the movie delivers, taking us back to a time when so much seemed possible -- from film, from politics, from the world.  Seems to me that film, thanks to these two and so many others, has more than held up its part of the bargain.

Two in the Wave, a Lorber Films release, opens this Wednesday, May 19, for a two-week run at New York City's Film Forum.  You can check performance times and dates here.

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