Directed by: Emmanuel Laurent
If someone to take an entry level film history class at a university, chances are you will learn about the French New Wave and their two big advocates, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. You be shown at least scenes from the 400 Blows and Breathless. You are told how this wave of films transformed everything including how people saw films, how they could be made and the acting. If you really liked those films (like I did) you might even do a rudimentary paper on how these films relate to someone more modern like Tarantino. However, you will not really get to know these two filmmakers in this class. These two men did a lot more than the 400 Blows and Breathless. They evolved, regressed, played with and fought over film. They were fierce friends and mortal enemies.
This film delves into the evolution of these two filmmakers as seen through the eyes of one of both directors’ favorite actors, Jean-Pierre Leaud. Jean-Pierre shows up in Truffaut’s first film, the 400 Blows, playing his doppelganger Antoine Doinel. He ends up playing Antoine several times throughout his career, but breaks from the character by playing Godard’s muse and anti-characters in various films including Masculin Feminine. Godard and Truffaut sort of fight over him as their personal friendship dissolves, ending with hate letters exchanged and the the friendship and working relationship cut off completely.
It is interesting to see how Truffaut evolves into an artistic director and Godard evolves into a political director. Truffaut talks about at one point the painter Matisse and how although he lived through three wars, one never sees that in his paintings. Instead you see women, flowers, and window sills. Art is done not just for art’s sake but art is done for distraction from the reality.
Godard approaches his films completely differently. He wants his films to be a reflection of how he wants the world to live both personally and politically. Of course his most famous film that is covered in this documentary is La Choinoise. Although I have not watched the full film, I know that it is about trying to live towards the Marxist ideal. Something that I find very noble to put into a film.
This documentary also covers the beginning of their relationship, as film critics. In this aspect for me, Truffaut and Godard are the ideal that I completely fail at getting to every time. These men would go to the Cinemathque all day and just watch film after film after film after film. Then they would parse out what they saw and put them into beautifully constructed criticism articles published in one of the biggest art magazines at the time. While they were doing this, they were no more older than I. And yet here I am writing a shitty review on a documentary that took me two times to see because I fell asleep/ had the internet go out on me the first time. I love watching films, but usually I can’t watch several films in a row because I come up with excuses to do other things. They loved film to the degree they were obsessed with it, but they were also critical of it. This love informed their mastery behind the camera in creating unique films. I want to be Godard. I want to be Truffaut. I want to love and be obsessed with cinema they way they were. I write about cinema in a way that adds things to the conversation and not just hey this film was good.
I love film. I love talking about film. I love watching film and I love making film. But I will never be as cool as Godard and as truthful as Truffaut. That is what this documentary taught me. Their genius is theirs and theirs alone. These directors are unique and shouldn’t just be one more stop in a long line of film evolution. They should be a class all their own.
P.S. if you want to watch another documentary film that is connected with this time period and want to be jealous of the ambition of someone definitely seek out Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinema. That film and Two in the Wave can be found on Netflix Watch Instant.