Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free on Hulu: Two in the Wave

In 1959, critic-turned-filmmaker Francois Truffaut – whose incendiary reviews of the Cannes Film Festival had gotten him banned from that fest just one year earlier -- made his first big splash as an auteur at Cannes with his debut feature, The 400 Blows, his profoundly affecting and enduringly influential autobiographical drama.

One year later, Jean-Luc Godard – another outspoken firebrand who railed against the prevailing norms of cinéma de papa in the pages of the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema – plunged into feature filmmaking with Breathless, his stylistically audacious and exuberantly fatalistic neo-noir romantic melodrama.

Together, these two friends – destined, perhaps inevitably, to become competitive rivals, then bitter enemies – helped launch La Nouvelle Vague or, if you don’t parlez-vous français, the French New Wave, a loose-knit, deeply committed group of highly individualistic film directors who burst upon the international scene in general and the U.S. art-house circuit in particular during the heady days of the post-Eisenhower Era.

There were other notables in their ranks – including Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais and Agnès Varda – but it was Truffaut and Godard who, then and now, defined in the minds of most critics, academics and cinephiles the revolutionary vitality of a filmmaking movement influenced in equal measures by Italian Neorealism, Hollywood Classicism and anything-goes youthful audacity. So it is altogether fitting that director Emmanuel Laurent has chosen to focus almost exclusively on the early careers of those two artists in Two in the Wave.

Written and narrated by film critic Antoine de Baecque, who has authored authoritative biographies of both men, this celebratory documentary is an ingeniously conceived and executed collage culled from newspaper and magazine clippings, newsreels and TV interviews and, of course, generous swaths of film clips. You can read more of what I had to say about it durng its 2010 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston debut here. And you see if for yourself up there. Or right here.

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