I've long felt obligated to like Godard, and I've struggled with that sense of obligation, because I've not really found his films enjoyable. Thanks to the documentary now showing at Film Forum, I have a better understanding of why: my tastes are too entrenched in the petit bourgeois.
Two in the Wave follows the rise of the Nouvelle Vague through the growing friendship, and after 1968, the growing rift, between Godard and Truffaut, the filmmakers who most defined the movement. Godard himself was petit bourgeois, Truffaut a poor miscreant, and they met writing criticism for André Bazin's Cahiers du Cinéma in the late 1950s. Certain they could do better than their stuffy, tired countrymen, they seduced producer Georges de Beauregard into backing Breathless (written by Truffaut, directed by Goddard, assisted by Chabrol). From that point forward, the movement was fairly well-defined: rules were for breaking (jump cuts during tracking shots? Of course!), and cinema was of, by, and for the youth.
As 1968 changed everything for everyone, so too it changed the relationship between these two men. Let's be honest now: Godard is a total prick. You feel it watching La Chinoise, one of the most pretentious pieces of crap ever made, which might actually be good if it was edited down into a 20-minute ironic short. This is a pre-1968 film, and we already see Godard rejecting completely his bourgeois upbringing. The famed student-worker uprisings made him even more political. He wanted another new cinema, a cinema of the worker, and so he torched his friendship with Truffaut on political-aesthetic grounds. Truffaut still believed in art for beauty's sake, quoting Matisse, who lived through three wars but painted windows, women, and fishbowls nevertheless.
The Truffaut films I've seen (Jules et Jim, Shoot the Piano Player, and the post-'68 The Man Who Loved Women) I've found less unbearable, but still not particularly compelling. The fact is that I'm too stodgy for the New Wave, and I'm okay with that. I want elegance, efficiency, and most importantly, craft. If Breathless works, it's because of Belmondo's charisma, not because Godard used a wheelchair as a dolly.