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Two in the Wave

Two in the Wave(2010)

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In 1959, critic-turned-filmmaker Francois Truffaut and 14-year-old actor Jean-Pierre Leaud became the toast of Cannes with Truffaut's debut feature, The 400 Blows. In the next year, Truffaut and Claude Chabrol signed a guarantee for their colleague, Jean-Luc Godard, to direct his debut feature. Breathless broke the rules, won the Silver Bear at Berlin and the Prix Jean Vigo and, along with The 400 Blows, launches the Nouvelle Vague (better known to Americans as the French New Wave). Coming from radically different childhoods and backgrounds (Truffaut came from an unhappy working class home and stints in juvenile detention, Godard from an affluent, educated, supportive family), the directors were close friends and colleagues, sharing many of the same cinematic fathers (Rossellini, Bergman, Renoir), celebrating neglected directors of the past (Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock in a celebrated book, Godard interviewed Fritz Lang in a documentary and cast him in Contempt) and preaching the gospel of a cinema dedicated to presenting the real, the honest and the authentic, first in the pages of film magazines and then on the screen.

Emmanuel Laurent's documentary Two in the Wave is an unconventional documentary using conventional techniques--stills and film clips, montages of newspaper clippings and magazine articles, archival interview clips with Truffaut, Godard and their shared cinematic son Leaud, and other newsreel and TV footage, all pulled together by writer/narrator Antoine de Baecque chronicling the history and spinning the stories of their lives and careers--and frames the sequences with actress Isild Le Besco (as close as you'll find to a 21st century New Wave actress, thanks to her roles in some of the most adventurous French films of the past decade and her own directorial efforts) wordlessly sorting through the evidence and wandering through locations of some of their film. There are no new interviews here--no critics putting the filmmakers in context or explaining their influence, no collaborators reflecting on their work together--and in the spirit of his subjects, he doesn't tell a linear story. He opens the film with Truffaut and Godard taking the world of cinema by storm with their respective feature debuts, then fills in their stories in successive steps back: their first short films, their work as fellow writers and film critics for "Cahiers du Cinema," and finally all the way back to meeting in the front row of Eric Rohmer's cinema club in 1949: the birth of a beautiful friendship based on a mutual love of cinema. For all the celebration of their art, this portrait of the filmmakers and their era is centered on their friendship, which in many ways was the foundation of the Nouvelle Vague.

As foreshadowed in the opening minutes (and as any film enthusiast with a passing interest in the films and filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague already knows), Truffaut and Godard took radically divergent paths as filmmakers and their increasingly contradictory approaches to filmmaking finally resulted a major falling-out in the early seventies. Two in the Wave devotes only the final minutes of the film to the conflict (carried on through articles, letters and even films) and break between the two colleagues after decades to friendship and collaboration. Laurent is more interested in their personalities and their creative drives, and in the support they gave one another up until the break: Truffaut's hand in securing Godard's debut film Breathless, Godard shaping raw footage from an unfinished Truffaut short to create the distinctly Godardian The Story of Water, the two joining forces to protest the firing of Cinemateque Francais director Henri Langlois (another cinematic godfather) and then joining the students and strikers in May 1968 and shutting down the Cannes Film Festival in solidarity.

It's as much a time capsule and a collage as a documentary narrative, as New York Times critic A.O. Scott observed, and de Baecque strives to show just what a seismic shift they brought to French cinema. The ripples of their wave changed cinema forever and this film quite modestly tries to bring that point home with headlines from the era and choice interview clips (the montage of filmgoers condemning Breathless is not simply priceless but a measure of the film's radical nature in 1960). And it is a loving tribute to the two artists whose names will forever be associated with the Nouvelle Vague and the friendship that bonded them for so many years.

Kino's disc is in French with English subtitles and feature no supplements. The image quality of the disc is no better than acceptable, but considering how much of the film consists of film clips (not always of the highest source material) and archival TV and newsreel footage, it's a moot point. The original color footage of actress Isild Le Besco, which appears to be shot on digital video, looks just fine on DVD.

For more information about Two in the Wave, visit Kino Lorber. To order Two in the Wave, go to TCM Shopping.

by Sean Axmaker