Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Two in the Wave Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut in Two in the Wave/Lorber Films, 2010)

Anybody unfamiliar with Francois Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard and the New Wave will sympathize with the child Jean Pierre-Leaud as he runs in to the dying waves on a beach in a remote location in France, turns to the camera, and looks confused, directionless and numb. Two in the Wave is a documentary for the initiated, and those who want so much as an introduction will feel stranded.
            In fact, it is not so much a documentary as an obligatory response to various information on Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc-Godard that has recently been published. Richard Brody published a biography of Godard last year, and previous to that, wrote a New Yorker article illustrating the breakdown of his friendship with Truffaut. Emmanuel Laurent, who has produced several television series, directs this film. What one can say of his film is that it tries, as hard as it can, to be a document. It does not succeed at this ambition. Two in the Wave can best be described as a lumpy film; it is yet another recent French film waxing nostalgically over the glorious past of French cinema that has now been reduced to tired gestures. Yet it has such major digressions in to archival footage of New Wave cinema that it views more like a collection of fragments than a narrative documentary. It wants to be chronological, yet zigzags back and forth in time (usually between the years of 1960-1963) so frequently, that we become lost in footage of Godard and Truffaut, rather than their friendship.
What Laurent is trying to illustrate is that their relationship was defined by movies. But this assumption is dishonest, considering how little he seems to care about the two as people. He briefly sketches the contours of their childhoods; Truffaut’s poor and neglected, Godard’s prosperous and cultured.  Truffaut’s adolescent experiences of constant movie-going, jail and the army were the inspirations for The 400 Blows. But Laurent’s passive, hurried way of inserting interview footage of Truffaut talking about these autobiographical leanings makes him guilty of a sin worse than audience condescension. He assumes we know all this information and will simply get a kick out of hearing it from the man himself. What is mainly interesting in the footage of Truffaut is how honest he is about the autobiographical nature of his work, as compared to other directors who dance around these aspects. Laurent did not stop to explore why Truffaut might have been so honest, and whether that was a sign of nobility or attention craving. He assumes we know the facts and want nothing more, so he’ll keep it brief. His is a sin of skittishness, or wimpy-ness.
But his faults bring to mind a very clever experimental film recently given limited release earlier this year, called Double Take. That film was about one of the New Wave’s idols, Alfred Hitchcock. Except that it was really about “Alfred Hitchcock.” The film interspersed archival footage of Hitchcock’s appearances with footage from his films, recreations of scenes from his films and a narrator who posed as a Hitchcock-like figure wandering through a paranoid sixties mystery, encompassing all the lunacy of the immediate postwar decades. In being a study of Hitchcock’s aura—his imagery, his deviancy, his themes—and by not taking itself deadly seriously, that film was a loving tribute to Hitchcock’s films and the persona he created, as opposed to the person he really was. If Two in the Wave took the same approach, it could have been a similar study of the films of the New Wave and the perceptions of Godard and Truffaut. There are moments when it almost gets there. Archival footage from several rare New Wave films—Jean Rouche’s I, a Black Man (1958), Jacques Demy’s Lola (1961)—is a pleasure to see for pure cinephile value. So is footage of the articulate film curator Henri Langlois, a film patriot if there ever was one. But it is only at one point, when the film trails off and becomes lost in toying with footage, when we see that Laurent really does care about assembling motion picture imagery. He finally gets inspired and speeds up a series of still photographs of Truffaut conversing with Alfred Hitchcock. Across a jerky series of photographs, Truffaut’s finger wags back and forth as if to lecture Hitchcock about the hip new generation of artists. It’s a scene that could have come from Double Take. But here, it is only an ephemeral moment of amusement.
Throughout the film, a mysterious red haired girl makes her way through various Paris locations and flips through a book of photographs of Truffaut and Godard. She at one point seems to be narrating, as a woman talking about Truffaut’s filmmaking methods. Yet she is too young to have an obvious place in the story and her sad eyes look sad for no clear reason. Is she Truffaut’s granddaughter? Is she sad to know that Godard and Truffaut would later exchange angry letters and never speak again? For the record, she is the young actress Islid Le Besco. It feels as though this is another thread Laurent toyed around with, but was too afraid to complete. This young woman has nothing to be sad about. Though she has a good reason to get angry at that camera, almost poking her face one minute, then discarding her for uncertain black and white frames in the next.