Release date: February 11th 2011
Certificate (UK): U
Running time: 91 minutes
Language: French with English subtitles
Director: Emmanuel Laurent
Featured in archive footage: Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Léaud
Emmanuel Laurent greets me with a firm handshake and a friendly smile. He invites me to sit with him, and I see he has hasn’t finished his lunch yet, but he puts it to the side, and it’s down to business.
We’re here to discuss filmmaking, the business he’s been in since he fell in love with the French New Wave as a teenager.
He is a self-taught filmmaker and writer who has made over twenty feature-length and short documentaries in his career so far. Currently he is editing Leonardo’s Last Journey which he hopes to finish by this summer, and he’s also working on a screenplay for Mademoiselle V, based on the book he wrote in 2003. It’s the story of Victorine Laurent, Monet’s model who remains virtually unknown apart from the artist’s paintings.
His latest film is Two in the Wave which he directed and produced. It’s written and narrated by Antoine de Baecque – a feature-length documentary which chronicles the friendship between French New Wave Film’s forefathers Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, and how politics would eventually turn it sour.
When he talks about filmmakers, there is a passion in his voice. He speaks English beautifully with a dash of that French accent; his words are punctuated and precise, especially when he describes filmmakers who were “of their time”, and “sincere” and New Wave films as being close to the “reality of things”. It would be a fascinating 30 minutes talking to him.
PATRICK: From an early age I imagine you must have been fascinated by movies. Do you remember when you first came to distinguish the French New Wave films from mainstream films?
EMMANUEL: I did go and see movies every Sunday afternoon with my parents. I remember seeing Chaplin’s movies like Goldrush  and being touched by it. My first erotic emotion I think is from something I would consider today as a bad movie…it was called…Michel Strogoff  with Curd Jürgens, I’m sure it’s a horrible movie but there was a woman belly dancing…so beautiful! When I saw Stolen Kisses , I think I was 17 or something like that, and then other Godard movies…All of a sudden the people who were on screen were my friends! They were talking the way I was talking, Jean Peier was a bit older than me, not much, and he was speaking the kind of language I was speaking so I was right away familiar with it. More with Truffaut than Godard.
That was cinema that was concerning me; that was talking about me, talking about my life. I always loved the way Jean-Pierre Léaud was speaking, like in a book…it’s not natural at all, but I loved that, I think it’s such a special way of having distance with the world and yet being so much in his time. So this is how I made the distinction and afterwards came to love this kind of film.
PATRICK: It was Godard and Truffaut you watched and learnt from as you became a filmmaker?
EMMANUEL: Godard was important because when you were learning to make films in the 60’s and 70’s you could not not take the lessons from them. Godard did film the way nobody did film before. He really brought a lot of freedom… they didn’t know how to make films but they knew how think about film. They were amazingly good film critics but they had no idea of how you actually make a film; how a camera works, how sound works, how a team works, which is of course very important when you make a film because you have to give orders to a team of 20 or 30 people. You have to understand what they do if you want to give the right orders; you have to know how a microphone works and these kinds of things.
They didn’t know, and that’s more true for Godard because he didn’t know, he broke the rules and made films in a way people didn’t make films before. He used a cameraman who was coming from the news and not from cinema, so these guys filmed with a hand held camera in a very spontaneous way so he used that to an advantage.
PATRICK: As a documentary filmmaker, how have the New Wave ideas helped you?
EMMANUEL: In documentary you have a kind of curse in that you’re supposed to be educational or learning. For us, we try to make films and not necessarily to teach things but to bring emotion, to tell a story and not be boring just because it’s a documentary. The New Wave in many ways was close to the reality of things; life, light, setting and people. In many ways they are documentarians because they try to translate on screen the reality of things they have seen, known and witnessed. It’s amazingly strong and powerful in the New Wave. I don’t think you have many movements like that where the films are so close to a time, translating what was going on; how men courted women, how they talked about politics…Godard was saying that himself, that he was a documentarian.
PATRICK: In Two In The Wave, there’s a lot to tell in 91 minutes. You chose to focus on Godard and Truffaut rather than the entire movement. Where did it begin and how did you start condensing it?
EMMANUEL: I read Antoine de Baecque’s books. He is a historian of that period, and also a historian in general, and of the 18th century actually. He is fascinated by the French New Wave and he wrote a biography on Truffaut 15 years ago and just released a huge 900-page biography of Godard. I read his biography on Truffaut and I contacted him. So he did all that brilliant work you were talking about.
Working with him was a real pleasure…impossible to make such a film without him. He not only wrote that biography, but he read every letter, he knew everything… so instead of me spending 5 years learning, we worked together. We collected all the archives we could find on the subject, watched all the films of the New Wave and also films of that time to get a better impression of what that time was.
We had the idea of making a film on the New Wave altogether but then we saw that many films have been made on the New Wave and many good ones so it was pointless to do yet another one. We looked for another way of telling the story and it was kind of obvious actually to make a film on those two very important figures, Truffaut and Godard. Within the movement they are very important and very opposed and have a very intimate and personal story, much more important than the other ones might have. They chose the same actor, they had the same team and the first film from Godard was to be Truffaut’s second film after the 400 Blows, he gave the script to Godard.
PATRICK: Did you have a chance to meet with Jean-Pierre Léaud?
EMMANUEL: I did meet him once, a long time ago, but when we decided to make the film, we very quickly decided not to interview people who actually worked with the New Wave for several reasons but one of the reasons is….well I didn’t want to have old people talking about their youth because it’s not only sad, but very often inaccurate! Even though they’ve lived the events they don’t necessarily remember it correctly. It was a film on youth so I wanted to go through the archive and try to stay at the time of the event we were talking about. We see archive interviews with Truffaut and Godard at the time and not them looking at their life retrospectively. I wanted to make the viewer share that time.
PATRICK: Isild Le Besco, the actress in the film, she guides us through the archives like a silent host. How did she come to be involved in Two In The Wave?
EMMANUEL: At the time we were talking about [making] the film, Antoine was working on a bio of Godard. He told me about his friend Isild Le Besco who was going to be in the next Godard movie! Not only is she an actress and beautiful, but she’s also a filmmaker. She makes films the way the New Wave people were making movies; very independent, money-wise and style-wise so she was a good representative of that state of mind.
PATRICK: Do you think Godard’s work suffered in later years as a result of the separation from Truffaut?
EMMANUEL: It’s very difficult to answer that question. I don’t know. I think Truffaut remained what he was. He never wanted to break the rules of cinema; he wanted his films to be sincere. For Godard, I think he does consider that he’s been the bad guy; a coward and unfaithful to his friend, so I think he has the burden within him. He’s a strange and very paradoxical person. He destroyed everything around him. We never showed him the film; I don’t think he’s interested in looking at it. He’s terrible to work with and he’s very mean. So how it has influenced his art…I don’t know, probably it has….it’s very difficult to say.
But he’s still a very inventive and creative filmmaker. He had ten years where he was militant and he didn’t make many movies. He didn’t try to make movies for others. He’s tried to get back in the business as much as he was before…He was a big star in the earl 70’s, everyone wanted to be in his films…I think he knows that going militant wasn’t the path he was supposed to follow. 2 or 3 years after the death of Truffaut he said that now he’s not there anymore, there is nobody to protect him, so it’s pretty strong. The interviewer asked him why and he doesn’t answer. It’s very revealing; he needed Truffaut if only to fight against.
PATRICK: What advice would you give to young filmmakers starting off today?
EMMANUEL: Find your own way of looking at the world and regroup with other friends who share these ideas with you because it’s important to be a group; you feel stronger and you have to emulate one another. Look at Romania; it’s a group of filmmakers who share these ideas, or in Germany, Denmark or Brazil. It’s because young people are inspired by an idea or want to find the voice of their time. But you shouldn’t copy the way they made the film, you should copy the spirit, the state of mind, and the freedom, but find your own aesthetic, the aesthetic of your own time.
PATRICK: What do you hope they will take from Two In The Wave?
EMMANUEL: I would like the young generation to look at my film and to think again about ways of making films, to bring more of that spirit of the New Wave which is to be sincere.
PATRICK: Will you be working with Antoine de Baecque again?
EMMANUEL: Hopefully, yes. We have another project together which is about another friendship between two big guys; Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot, the 18th century philosophers who were close friends. We just finished the script so hopefully we’re going to do that this year.
With that we finish up because there’s a taxi waiting outside to whisk Emmanuel off. Later that night he would present Two In The Wave at the BFI in London and taking part in a Q&A with the audience, but hopefully he will get a chance to finish his lunch!
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .