Cambridge Film Festival Review: Two In The Wave (Deux de la vague)

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The Pitch: Apparently that French bloke in Close Encounters did some other stuff too.

The Review: The life of a critic, and of course specifically a film critic, can be a tricky one. In any field of criticism, the authority to judge the work of others subjectively used to be a more exclusive gift, but now any Johnny –come-lately, even I, can dispense their opinion to the world. Film criticism does run the risk of being entirely self-serving, but many have managed distinguished careers behind the camera as well as the pen, and some of the most famous examples are the leaders of the French New Wave, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Two In The Wave outlines the formation of this revolutionary movement in French cinema, and what not only brought these men together but what also ultimately drove them apart.

What brought them together can be summed up rather simply as passion, for their art and for their principles. Ultimately, their divisions, at least according to the makers of this documentary, saw them falling divided along those lines; for Truffaut, it was the art that was key, but Godard was a man of principle and saw the political power that could be wielded if you had a camera in your hand. Two In The Wave charts their progress from the first formations of the Wave in the late Fifites, and its impact on the culture of the time, through their involvement in political difficulties of later years, but its focus is always on the achievements of the two, and their struggle to emulate their earlier successes.

The framing device for this simple story is also uncomplicated, taking the form of an unnamed observer reading through libraries of articles in an effort to uncover more about these two gifted men. While this allows the narrative the room to move at its own pace, it adds nothing to either the story being told, nor does it show any stylistic flourishes which might otherwise elevate the material. For the uninitiated, the only glimpses into what caused the movement to stand out, and also to inspire the generation of filmmakers that followed it, are from the clips of the predominant works, including The 400 Blows and Jules et Jim. In Truffaut’s case, there’s also particular mention given to the young actor who started his career in Truffaut’s first work, Jean-Pierre Léaud, and the expected round of familial talking heads and archive interviews complete the picture.

In its own way, then, the documentary is more than a little recursive; in its establishment of the desire of Truffaut and Godard to improve on what was out there, it somehow feels that a much better and more incisive, and also more stylised, documentary is out there for the making, and in that of course it should be you or I, the viewer, taking on that challenge. This doesn’t detract completely from the fact that this is a story well worth the telling, and a historic record that has a special place in the chronology of world cinema, but it tells its tale, and that’s about all. (Fin.)

Why see it at the cinema: Mainly for the clips of the two’s movies, which deserve to be seen on the big screen; for the rest, the arguments aren’t quite as compelling.

The Score: 6/10

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