2 & 1. À Bout de Souffle (At the End of Breath) (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960) & Jules et Jim (Francois Truffaut, 1962)
I still cannot separate them: for me, they remain the twin peaks of the new wave, and arguably of post-war European cinema. While in many ways they are stylistically very different (À bout de souffle is based on an original screenplay, Jules et Jim an adaptation of a novel; À bout de souffle is self-consciously iconoclastic, Jules et Jim more classical in many ways), they both share the same sense of energy and artistic regeneration. In this way, the term “new wave” is incredibly fitting, because the greatest French cinema of the early 1960s was like a wave, and a tidal wave at that, sweeping away all before it as it sought new cinematic means of telling stories: jump cuts; direct addresses to camera; and a deliberate self-referentiality about film.
Godard and Truffaut actually collaborated once on À bout de souffle, with Godard developing the script from an original story outline by Truffaut (and an uncredited Claude Chabrol). But in essence, theirs was an endless collaboration and competition throughout the 1960s, as they spurred each other on to ever greater artistic heights. And that was never truer than at the beginning of the decade, when Truffaut saw what Godard had done with his original story about a gangster on the run (transforming it into an adrenaline rush of a movie, which Martin Scorsese has called “the axis of cinema” as it marks the break between old and new styles of filmmaking) and effectively raised him with his masterful adaptation of Henri-Pierre Roché’s love-triangle novel set during WWI.
Just as Shakespeare benefited from close artistic proximity to Marlowe, and Mozart inspired Beethoven, so Godard and Truffaut drove each other on to new heights – and those heights were never higher than in these two dazzling, dizzying masterpieces.