Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut. Photo courtesy of Lorber Films.
Just over five decades ago, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard put theory into practice and changed the face of film. As critics at Cahiers du Cinema they championed directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray, forming the auteur theory to suggest that the director—more than anyone else on a movie—was its author.
Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and Godard’s Breathless ushered in The French New Wave and proved their own point. With a voiceover narration written by Antoine de Baecque, who has authored biographies of both men, Emmanuel Laurent’s Two in the Wave, opening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater on January 21 for a one-week run, employs plenty of film clips and other archival material that captures that moment when they changed film forever, and also charts a relationship that began in friendship and ended in enmity. Essential viewing both to New Wave fans and those with a more general interest in film history, it also makes a fine companion to these equally compelling films:
The Beaches of Agnes: Truffaut and Godard’s New Wave contemporary Agnes Varda tells her story in a more idiosyncratic voice in this lighter, more playful documentary.
Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque: Truffaut and Godard worked on attaining their perfect pasty complexions with the hours they spent in Paris’ Cinematheque Francaise. This more epic doc spins the tale of the Cinematheque co-founder and pioneer film preservationist whose programming genius so influenced the future auteurs.
Day for Night: Truffaut’s satire of a trouble-prone film shoot is a frothy, affectionate peek behind the scenes—and a movie that so enraged Godard that it led to the final schism between the former comrades.
Contempt: Godard’s own behind-the-scenes drama is as glossy as Day for Night, but the title says it all. This more acrid take on the film industry is more poison-pen missive than love letter.
Irma Vep: The directors’ frequent star (and Truffaut’s cinematic alter ego) Jean-Pierre Leaud stars as an older, sadder filmmaker in this darkly humorous, character-driven showbiz story, a more downbeat look at the industry.
Beware of a Holy Whore: Another influential filmmaker, the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder, offers a spin on Contempt, focusing on the egos, ennui, and erotic possibilities of a film shoot.
White Hunter, Black Heart: Clint Eastwood more stealthily pays tribute to another legendary filmmaker, John Huston, in this darkly humorous, languid adaptation of Peter Viertel’s roman a clef about the director’s massive ego and his shenanigans during the making of The African Queen.
A Decade Under the Influence: The New Wave begat its American counterpart in the late 1960s and 1970s, and this more aggrandizing, less focused doc examines the personalities and films of the era.
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse: This darker documentary also targets an influential filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola, but its gaze is narrower as it tells the story behind the making of Apocalypse Now.
– Pam G.