The demoralizing slide of the relationship between Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, from artistic comrades-in-arms during the thrilling creation of the nouvelle vague to name-calling enemies from the early ’70s onward, is charted in overly academic and constricted fashion in “Two in the Wave.” Buffs interested in the filmmakers and the era will be delighted by wonderful early newsreel and interview footage of the budding young auteurs, but the pic constrains its viewpoint and informational value by not mixing in the insights of their contemporaries. Fests, museums, Euro TV and specialized DVD rep appropriate venues, and a less awkward, more expressive English-lingo title wouldn’t hurt for U.S. and U.K. consumption (Cannes catalog used the equally clunky “Two of the New Wave”).
The docu preemed at the Cannes Classics sidebar on the 50th anniversary of the Cannes unveiling of Truffaut’s debut feature, “The 400 Blows,” the event that caused the New Wave to break on the beaches of the Cote d’Azur and be felt throughout the French film industry and around the world.
That very same week, Truffaut, along with Claude Chabrol, personally vouched for Godard with producer Georges de Beauregard, who then went ahead with “Breathless,” based on a Truffaut story.
Those were heady days, the stuff of future legend and an inspiration to innumerable aspiring filmmakers for decades to come. They also rep the docu’s high point; director Emmanuel Laurent has unearthed captivating coverage of “The 400 Blows” star Jean-Pierre Leaud at the Cannes train station, Truffaut on the Croisette and the excited opening-night crowd at the old Palais.
Pic then backtracks to 1949, the year teenage film fanatics Truffaut and Godard first met, whereupon the plod sets in. Dutifully, Laurent and writer Antoine de Baecque, co-author of a 1996 Truffaut biography who’s prepping one on Godard for publication next year, trace the history of the Cahiers du Cinema, explain who Andre Bazin was and quite erratically parallel and contrast the two men’s very different backgrounds (Godard pampered, Swiss and connected; Truffaut poor, truant and saved from prison by Bazin), stressing some facts and ignoring others almost at random.
One fascinating bit has an unidentified Jean Rouch explaining how inadequate equipment on his 1958 feature “Moi un noir” forced him to “invent” the jump-cutting editing style adopted by Godard to such acclaim in “Breathless” two years later.
The sporadic Truffaut-Godard mutual support club reached its peak in 1968, first with their effort (joined by many others) to reinstate Henri Langlois as head of the Cinematheque Francaise, then when they led the push to shut down the Cannes Film Festival during the events of May. In both cases, abundant footage of the two brings their actions alive.
Portrait of their falling out is at once frustratingly sketchy and jarringly abrupt; the pic’s French press notes contain much more detailed and nuanced info than does the film itself. The upshot is that the radicalized Godard began branding his old pal a bourgeois phony, whereupon Truffaut shot back with a 20-page letter broiling with invective. They never spoke again. Also oddly not in the film are the rather remorseful comments made by Godard after Truffaut’s death in 1984.
Narrator de Baecque reads endlessly from assorted texts, lending a professorial rather than intimate air. What would have been welcome instead are the personal views of contemporaries who knew them both; actor Leaud and cinematographer Raoul Coutard worked with each man repeatedly, and there are many other New Wave-era figures, including Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Jacques Rivette, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Godard’s ex-wife Anna Karina, who surely could have further illuminated both the bond and the fracture between these two great, and temperamentally so different, figures of the New Wave.