3 June 2011

TWO IN THE WAVE (Dir. Emmanuel Laurent, 2010, France)

The conclusion that Emmanuel Laurent seems to arrive at after having dissected the friendship between Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard is somewhat predictable. I felt a little short changed actually – Laurent spends way too much time considering the legitimacy of both Truffaut and Godard as the modern auteur then gives only twenty minutes or so at the end exploring what is arguably the most decisive of splits within the Truffaut-Godard friendship, a friendship that ended in bitterness after the political fallout of 68. Nevertheless, if one was approaching the French New Wave from a beginner’s perspective or wanted to get a grip on the influences and evolution of both Truffaut and Godard as cinema iconoclasts then Laurent’s documentary would make for an excellent starting point. Illuminating parallels are drawn between cinemas of the past and present including comparisons between Godard and Lang whilst Truffaut is pared with Rossellini pointing to a difference in terms of approach, content and style. Laurent and writer Antoine de Baecque spend time examining the origins of Truffaut and Godard’s entry into film making by acknowledging the differences in terms of upbringing. Truffaut’s lower class background and encounters with the police not only pinpoints the deeply autobiographical content of his Antoine Doinel films but makes a striking contrast to Godard’s middle class, privileged and cultured childhood. The impact of Cahiers Du Cinema is also explored, reiterating the lack of a formal film education for Truffaut and Godard was more than compensated by their ravenous consumption of cinema. Whilst many of Truffaut and Godard’s films after the initial success of A Bout De Souffle and Les Quatre Cents Coups failed commercially they still supported one another both as friends and critics. They even came together to campaign for the reinstatement of Henri Langlois in 1968 by making a short protest film. However, the turning point came with the political and social upheaval brought on by the international student movement and the events of 1968. For Laurent and De Baecque, the split came to fruition at the Cannes Film Festival of 1968 at which both Godard and Truffaut declared their opposition to the Gaullist government and called for cinema in France to come together as a united front to show support for the workers. In many ways the failure of 1968 radicalised Godard so that his approach to cinema became holistically ideological and leftist in tone whilst Truffaut seemed to go in the opposite direction. Laurent and De Baecque are careful not to take sides but one is made to question the post 68 legitimacy and credibility of both Truffaut and Godard. Whilst Truffaut accused Godard of becoming a propagandist, Godard’s reply to his old friend talked of quality cinema and commercial compromise which the Nouvelle Vague had rallied against as dishonest and superficial. Perhaps Truffaut was right because Godard’s disillusionment with ideologue did become more transparent in the mid 70s but then Godard was also right when he said that can a film maker really live in isolation when one has a moral obligation to react against the socio-political determinants. One is left with the deeply moving impression that whilst Truffaut’s cinema was personal and Godard’s political, both were equally valid, relevant and revolutionary in their own way.

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