Won’t deter devotees of the New Wave, but won’t thrill them either

Two in the Wave

on May 20, 2010 by Wade Major
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By taking a convoluted approach to a compelling topic, novelist/documentarian Emmanuel Laurent and screenwriter/film critic Antoine de Baecque do an unfortunate disservice to the dual legacies of both François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. That won't necessarily discourage fans of the two legendary filmmakers to attend, but without strong word of mouth to encourage less avid devotees, Two in the Wave is more likely to be One and Done with a brief novelty run.

The idea is both simple and bold-casting Truffaut's and Godard's legendary friendship and rivalry as a kind of Cain and Abel drama-Truffaut's sainted artiste versus Godard's enfant terrible-within which the vibrant artistic extremes of the French New Wave are to be fully encapsulated. Making the case, however, requires a bit of hop-scotching-academic explanations of what the New Wave was and why it mattered, interspersed with episodes and anecdotes unique to the Godard/Truffaut drama. The drawback here is that the generic New Wave material is never really that interesting. However, the backstory on how Truffaut, who was born to a poor unwed mother in Paris, and Godard, who hails from a prosperous Swiss family, forged parallel careers beginning with the landmark successes of The 400 Blows and Breathless, is compelling.

The aim here is clear-Baecque and Laurent are mindful of tumbling into the kind of parochialism that typically make such films totally inaccessible to all but the hardcore initiated. Unfortunately, while they clearly have enough material to manage the feat, they never manage to assemble it successfully, nor do they ever quite find the focus necessary to unravel either man's more enigmatic qualities. For more than half the film, in fact, there's a sense that the filmmakers are simply fumbling with loosely connected chronological events-until the relationship becomes strained and irreparably damaged in the wake of the momentous events of 1968, beginning with the street protests that followed the firing of French Cinematheque director Henri Langlois and concluding with the near boycott of that year's Cannes Film Festival. By the time the final schism arrives-a lengthy letter from an increasingly radicalized Godard lambasting his former friend for his "bourgeois" betrayal in Day for Night, followed by an equally fierce rebuttal from Truffaut-the film has effectively ended, just as it finally discovers the emotion that should have sustained it throughout.

The real underlying problem here is that Baecque and Laurent are operating from a faulty premise-volatile though it was, the Godard/Truffaut narrative was but one of many dramatic New Wave subplots populated by a wildly diverse group of personalities. It's certainly a story worth telling, but hardly as pivotal and all-encompassing as they would like to believe, all of which makes the effort far more exhausting than it ever should have been.

Distributor: Lorber Films
Director/Producer: Emmanuel Laurent
Screenwriter: Antoine de Baecque
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 91 min.
Release date: May 19 NY

Tags: Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Antoine de Baecque, Emmanuel Laurent
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