Travelling from the love between Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut to a bitter hatred, Emmanuel Laurent’s Two In The Wave is a breathless histoire(s) du cinéma.
The Cinefiles by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
As the UK celebrates fifty years of the New Wave with a re-release of A Bout De Souffle, Emmanuel Laurent’s documentary feels very timely. Built around the crumbling friendship between François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, it’s a fond remembrance of films past, with Les 400 Coups and A Bout De Souffle playing starring roles. (And walk-on parts for Varda, Demy, Rohmer and Rivette.) Like its framing story of a girl casting her eye over yellowed editions of Cahiers du cinéma and Arts magazine, Two In The Wave is a nostalgic flick through the Nouvelle Vague and its cinema-loving denizens.
Written by Truffaut biographer and former editor of Cahiers du cinéma, Antoine de Baecque, Two In The Wave is a geeky kind of love poem. While Truffaut could alchemise his vast knowledge of and passion for cinema into the 1959 Cannes-winning Les 400 Coups, the Laurent and Baecque two-hander remains a fairly stolid homage. At times the documentary lifts, and it’s probably thanks to Baecques’ Cahiers connections that we are belatedly privy to the front-row friendship that grew up between the young cine-lovers, watching Renoir and Bergman at the Cinémathèque or theorising over Hitchcock and Hawks at the magazine.
From sleeping overnight in a Biarritz lycée for the Festival du Film Maudit to Truffaut’s generous gift to Godard of the screenplay of A Bout De Souffle, their friendship is marked by a series of collaborations; mysterious progeny in the shape of Godard’s debut or Une Histoire d’Eau (a fortuitous short of Jean-Claude Brialy navigating the Parisian floods filmed by Truffaut, edited and scripted by Godard), Truffaut producing Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle or the much-squabbled-over Jean-Pierre Léaud, vacillating between his two pères du cinéma.
Pitilessly even-handed, Two In The Wave languishes in the mutually supportive friendship between JLG and Francesco, as well as their films; Le Mépris, Tirez Sur Le Pianiste and Jules Et Jim. Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films loom large, as well as Godard’s La Chinoise and Masculin Féminin, the films Jean-Pierre Léaud escapes to when his semi-fictional collaboration with Truffaut becomes too much. In 1968, building on the glitterati demonstrations that follow the sacking of Henri Langlois from the Cinémathèque Française, Paris mobilises, and Truffaut and Godard take to the barricades at Cannes, cancelling the festival in support of striking workers. Their goal the same, their ideals rapidly diverging.
As Godard embraces la nouvelle politique, Truffaut carries on, refining his cinematic journey in Les Deux Anglaises Et Le Continent or La Nuit Américaine. Whether it’s the break, or as Godard proposes, the fact cinema is a youthful art, the films of both directors suffer after 1968, and in a sense Laurent has nowhere to go. No more monochrome jump-cuts or celluloid joie de vivre. Instead their rupture is a mutual impoverishment that marks their slow retreat into the hallowed pantheon of cinéastes and Two In The Wave loses its way, focussing on the quarrel of correspondences between Godard and Truffaut and a torn Jean-Pierre Léaud.
More a glittering pool of celluloid new waves than the trickling away of a friendship, Two In The Wave is an enjoyable montage of Sixties French cinema. With little known facts, rare photos and archive footage of the Hitchcocko-Hawksians divulged, it’s a retro-feast for the Nouvelle Vague cinephile. But as a documentary on the dissolution of the jeunes turcs, it’s too even-handed to dish the dirt. Like A Bout De Souffle, a love story between a boy who thinks of death and a girl who thinks only of life, the friendship between Godard and Truffaut is a complementary antagonism, steeped in a passion for cinema that fractures beyond repair. And burying the death of cinema between them is going to take more than a girl and a gun.
Two In The Wave is released in the UK on 3rd September 2010.