Monday, May 24, 2010

"Two in the Wave"

We went to see a new film about the French "Nouvelle Vague" or "New Wave" the other day, and the two people who were by far its most famous proponents - Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. The film itself wasn't that hot, but what a great story! Two French critics, two struggling theoreticians of film who had been writing for the great film magazine Cahiers de Cinema for years, finally make good on their ideas by turning out two great motion pictures at the end of the 1950s - Truffaut's "400 Blows" and Godard's "Breathless." These truly were stunning, unique visions on celluloid made by two writers who had been complaining for years about the staid, conservative nature of French cinema. When they got their chance to show how different it all could be, they did not disappoint their viewers.

On the surface, Godard's film with its jump cuts, anti-narrative flow, and excruciatingly extended two person scenes, seems the more experimental of the two films. But its story is banal and downright silly (though that is partly the point) and is really more of a tribute to American gangster movies than anything else. Truffaut's film is authentically autobiographical and a deeply moving meditation on the trials and tribulations of childhood. It retains a universality that only deepens with time. On the other hand, Godard's playfulness and wry sense of humor have a lasting quality, too, that can easily be overlooked because of the silly story.

These two men who took the film world by storm and then went on to make many other influential films could not have been more different. Truffaut was working class, modest, and tentative. Godard was a child of privilege, rather boastful, and just a bit too full of himself. Their films, in many ways, reflected these contrasting qualities perfectly. In the end, Truffaut is the much greater filmmaker, while Godard is the more memorable personality. Both continue to have an impact on how films are made today.

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