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Lost in Narration

May 24, 2010
Two in the Wave

Jean-Luc Godard (L) and Francois Truffaut are profiled in Emmanuel Laurent's somewhat torturous new documentary Two in the Wave.

For a film about two of history’s most important directors, Two in the Wave is astonishingly uncinematic. Emmanuel Laurent’s documentary tells the story of the relationship between Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. And I do mean “tells.” Written and narrated by French New Wave scholar Antoine de Baecque, Two in the Wave is little more than an introductory academic essay put to film, a slideshow of photos, newspaper headlines and (thankfully) film clips to support narration that never misses a chance to tell us what we’re supposed to feel or think. Sometimes the clips are even redundant of the narration, as if de Baecque were defending his dissertation. One gains nothing from watching the film that one wouldn’t get from reading the script.

The story is interesting enough: the friendship forged between Truffaut and Godard during the early years of the French New Wave, and the eventual dissolution of their relationship after the student revolt of 1968. But there is a surprising lack of footage of the two together, which makes the film seem like the parallel stories of two great directors whose paths occasionally crossed rather than the portrait of a friendship. The clips of the pairs’ later films provide the most interesting moments in Two in the Wave, illustrating an aesthetic and political chasm too wide for personal affection to bridge. Or that’s what de Baecque wants us to think. It seems more likely the friendship dissolved because Godard was a world-class prick, sending Truffaut a letter comparing his films to the concentration camps. The most effective bit of the entire film comes during the credits, when Laurent shows footage from Truffaut’s audition of Jean-Pierre Léaud, before The 400 Blows made him (and Truffaut) a star. It is simultaneously nostalgic, moving and funny, calling to mind a time of innocence before politics and ego drove Godard and Truffaut apart. Best of all, de Baecque keeps his trap shut.

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