The first voice we hear in Two in the Wave is Jean-Luc Godard’s. “After the death of François,” the 79-year-old auteur says, “Anne-Marie Miéville told me, Now that he’s dead, nobody will protect you.” He’s talking about François Truffaut, who, as Godard began his career, was not only his protector but his collaborator and financial wrangler. Their friendship all but created the French New Wave.
In 1959, Truffaut was 27, dazzling Cannes with his debut, The 400 Blows. Godard, a year older and broke, was nowhere. He begged his friend for help—which took the form of a treatment Truffaut had abandoned, titled À bout de souffle. Breathless was Godard’s “last chance, his last cartridge,” says Antoine de Baecque, who wrote Two in the Wave. Truffaut even agreed to use his new fame to find financing.
The title was apt: When Breathless opened in 1960, cinéastes gasped. Improvisation, handheld cameras, and natural light would soon make their way to the mainstream. So did his stars, the ugly-beautiful Jean-Paul Belmondo and the proto–hipster goddess Jean Seberg.
As the documentary shows, the directors’ deep friendship soon turned fractious. Godard began to criticize his mentor, saying he’d gone uptight and dull. Truffaut hit back with accusations of “abandoning cinema” and “embracing militantism.” They feuded until Truffaut’s death in 1984. Only later did Godard reconcile his feelings publicly: Cinema “ate us up,” he wrote in a preface to Truffaut’s collected letters. “If we tore each other apart little by little, it was for fear of being the first to be eaten alive.”