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.