Two in the Wave Review
Two in the Wave, Emmanuel Laurent’s 2010 documentary, tells of the friendship between Nouvelle Vague figureheads Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. We open with the success of Les Quatre cents coups/The 400 Blows at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival (which won Truffaut the ‘Best Director’ prize) and the making of Godard’s first feature A bout de souffle/Breathless, on which Truffaut earned himself a co-writer credit, the same year. From these two key events we move, at first, backwards to their work on Cahiers du Cinéma and various shorts (both together and independently) and then forwards to their ultimately divergent careers in film. It’s a familiar story for a number of reasons: Godard and Truffaut, or at least certain periods of their filmmaking, have never really gone out of fashion; the Cahiers ‘gang’ - which also consisted of Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer amongst others - have similarly remained fresh in the minds of filmgoers thanks to continual coverage; and the majority of the films themselves are easily available, making it overtly apparent that Godard and Truffaut would take very different routes - we need only look at their respective films from 1972, for example, and see the chasm between Godard’s Tout va bien and Letter and Jane and Truffaut’s Une Belle fille comme moi/A Gorgeous Girl Like Me.
Given the familiarity of its subjects the question arises as to what Two in the Wave has to add to this story. Does it offer anything new? Does it approach the material from an intriguing angle? Or should it be viewed simply as a primer? In truth, the temptation is to err towards the latter and label the documentary as nothing more than an introduction. This in itself is no bad thing and, certainly, the tale of Godard and Truffaut is a fascinating one and deserves to be told in a single place. And whilst there is little that is new in terms of fresh material or a unique approach, Two in the Wave does occupy its 93-minute duration with a wealth of archive footage and original reportage. As such the appearance of instantly recognisable names (Henri Langlois, Andre Bazin) or events (the cancelled Cannes Film Festival of 1968) is at least tempered with an immediacy due to the nature of this material. Indeed, it can even throw up some surprises as is the case with the ‘vox pops’ captured outside a screening of A bout de souffle where various members of the public disparage it as “dirt” or “frightening” whilst acknowledging its appeal to “the youth”.
Needless to say this reliance on the archive makes Two in the Wave an excellent introduction, effectively serving to tell the story of Godard and Truffaut from a first hand means as opposed to relying on retrospective memory (the two filmmakers’ own thoughts are recounted in voice-over thanks to their various articles, letters and diaries). This aspect becomes especially interesting in the documentary’s handling of Jean-Pierre Léaud, who essentially grows up before our very eyes as he returns to role of Antoine Doinel over the years and flits between the two directors. (It’s often forgotten that he worked more often with Godard owing to his being best known as Truffaut’s ‘alter-ego’ thanks to Les Quatre cents coups and subsequent Doinel films.) Furthermore, Léaud is at the very crux of Two in the Wave, the child caught between the disintegrating friendship of his two ‘fathers’ as Godard became more politicised and Truffaut arguably grew ‘safer’ in his filmmaking outlook. Yet Laurent never takes sides and favours Godard over Truffaut or vice versa. He simply presents the facts and leaves it at that; as said, there is no angle, only a desire to tell the story as objectively - and stylishly - as possible.
With that said, you do wonder as to why New Wave picked up Two in the Wave for theatrical distribution and as a standalone DVD, especially one backed only by a trailer. Ideally, the documentary would sit better as a supplementary feature, the kind of in-depth accompaniment to adorn a Criterion edition or similarly extras-heavy package for one of either Godard’s or Truffaut’s features (it would certainly sit easily amongst a number of either’s films). For whilst it does serve as a fine introduction to the pair I’m not convinced of its status as a ‘main event’ if you will. Moreover, would the presentation here really be that much different if placed within a special feature context? After all, we get an acceptable presentation complete with clean print anamorphically enhanced at a ratio of 1.78:1 and similarly crisp Dolby Digital soundtrack, albeit with slight misgivings owing to the burnt-in English subtitles and a desire to translate all film titles into English even if, in the UK at least, they are rarely known in such a manner. (Truffaut’s celebrated short Les Mistons is referred to as The Brats, for example.) They’re the kind of flaws that would be perfectly acceptable on an ‘extra’, but less so on a near-vanilla disc expected to compete with all of the other Godard and Truffaut releases out there.