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French New Wave

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

New Wave (French: La Nouvelle Vague) is a French film movement which emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a form of European art cinema,[2] and is often referred to as one of the most influential movements in the history of cinema. New Wave filmmakers were linked by their self-conscious rejection of the traditional film conventions then dominating France, and by a spirit of iconoclasm. Common features of the New Wave included radical experimentation with editing, visual style, and narrative, as well as engagement with the social and political upheavals of the era.[2]

The term was first used by a group of French film critics and cinephiles associated with the magazine Cahiers du cinéma in the late 1950s and 1960s, who rejected the Tradition de qualité ("Tradition of Quality") of mainstream French cinema,[3] which "emphasized craft over innovation, privileged established directors over new directors, and preferred the great works of the past to experimentation."[4] This was apparent in a manifesto-like essay written by François Truffaut in 1954, Une certaine tendance du cinéma français, where he denounced the adaptation of safe literary works into unimaginative films.[5]

Using portable equipment and requiring little or no set up time, the New Wave way of filmmaking presented a documentary style. The films exhibited direct sounds on film stock that required less light. Filming techniques included fragmented, discontinuous editing, and long takes. The combination of objective realism, subjective realism, and authorial commentary created a narrative ambiguity in the sense that questions that arise in a film are not answered in the end.[6]

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  • ✪ Breathless: An analysis of discontinuity editing


What’s playing at the multiplex today? Another big-budget sequel? The same old romantic comedy? Yet another superhero movie? ...probably that last one. A lot of the time, Hollywood is driven by trends. The success of one film or genre inspires others to jump on the bandwagon. And that’s how we end up with nothing but reboots and dystopian fantasies. The same thing happened after World War II. Audiences around the globe were getting tired of the films coming out of Hollywood… calling them artificial, self-important, and inauthentic. From the Italians in the 1940s to the French in the 1960s, and even independent directors at work today, filmmakers have found ways to challenge the classical Hollywood model by creating their own vibrant and original films. So let’s talk about Italian Neo-Realism, the French New Wave, and all kinds of independent cinema. Are we going to talk about Sharknado? Nick: No. Craig: Okay good! [Opening Music Plays] Between the 1930s and 1950s, the major American film studios perfected a particular style of filmmaking we call classical Hollywood cinema. Their stories were chaste, formulaic, and mostly upbeat. The good guys almost always won, and husbands and wives couldn’t even share a bed. Many of the films were shot on constructed sets or the studio’s backlot. And most used a flat, generic form of lighting called high key lighting that ensured the entire image was clearly visible. A lot of great films came out of the studio system, but Hollywood was churning out between six- and eight-hundred films a year and dominating the global film market. By the mid-1940s, audiences were ready for something new. The first post-World War II movement to find its voice was Italian Neo-Realism. Many of its filmmakers, like Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio de Sica, were working directors before the war and started shooting again as soon as the fighting ended. After living through that violent time, they craved a more raw and authentic style than classical Hollywood cinema could provide. Filmmaking tools for these guys ran thin: Cinecittà, the film studio in Rome, was nearly destroyed during the war, equipment was often damaged or missing, and film stock was hard to come by. But these resourceful Italian filmmakers found a way to turn these disadvantages into a style that reflected the harsh reality they saw around them. The first Italian Neo-Realist film was Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 masterpiece Rome: Open City. Set and shot in the Italian capital just after the end of the war, the film tells the tragic story of a handful of characters living under Nazi occupation. Rossellini mixed non-actors with movie stars and filmed in and around buildings that had actually been bombed. The film has an extremely rough look, a plot that meanders from character to character, unexpected and shocking deaths, and an ambiguous ending. Nothing about it screams “classical Hollywood,” and that’s what helped turned it into a hit. Other Italian Neo-Realists followed Rossellini’s example, focusing on stories that tried to reveal the authentic suffering of everyday people. Then, nearly two decades later, another film movement would take a different approach to the same problem: how do you make more authentic, irreverent movies than Hollywood? In the late 1950s in France, a group of opinionated young film lovers started writing for a movie magazine called Cahiers du cinema. At the time, the mainstream French film industry was making a lot of unimaginative literary adaptations that mimicked the classical Hollywood style. Films like Jean Delannoy’s The Little Rebels and Rene Clement’s war drama Forbidden Games. And these young film critics hated them. In 1959, one of their most prominent writers, Jean-Luc Godard, wrote a scathing attack on 21 major French directors. Here’s just part of what he said: “Your camera movements are ugly because your subjects are bad, your casts act badly because your dialogue is worthless; in a word, you don’t know how to create cinema, because you no longer know what it is.” Ouch. The main argument of these critics was that the studio systems – in both the United States and France – were spoon-feeding their audiences rather than respecting their intelligence. Interestingly, some of the filmmakers these critics admired had worked in Hollywood during the height of this studio system: directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, and Alfred Hitchcock. And this was even before Hitchcock was Hitchcock. At the time, he was considered a reliable maker of commercial thrillers. Successful, sure, but not a genius. These young French film critics, however, saw a filmmaker entirely in command of his medium – from story to cinematography to editing. They also admired a few contemporary French filmmakers, people like Alain Resnais and Agnès Varda. Varda’s work, particularly her use of non-professional actors, documentary realism, and real-life locations, demonstrated that a vital, refreshing French cinema was possible. By the end of the 1950s, they had analyzed a boatload of contemporary cinema, and were ready to start making films of their own. In 1959, four of them made their feature film directing debuts: Jean-Luc Godard shot Breathless, Jacques Rivette made Paris Belongs to Us, Claude Chabrol made his second film Les Cousins, and François Truffaut directed The 400 Blows. Truffaut’s film was selected to screen at the hugely prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where Truffaut won Best Director. Suddenly, these scrappy young critics were being recognized as major international film stars, and it put French New Wave on the map. This style involved making films swiftly with minimal crews and lightweight equipment. Like WheezyWaiter... actually no crew for Wheezy Waiter. Advances in camera technology, along with faster film stocks, allowed them to shoot with available or natural lighting, instead of hauling around lights. The films’ plots often felt spontaneous and absurd, featuring tangents, casual and irreverent humor, a frank approach to sexuality, and sometimes obscure cinematic references and in-jokes. French the Llama, that’s neat! They used a lot of tricks to remind audiences they were watching a movie, to really play with that illusion of reality – things like jump-cuts or characters talking directly to the camera. Like WheezyWaiter. But their goal was to capture something really authentic about life in post-war Europe. And even though the Italian Neo-Realism and French New Wave styles got fancy names, this shift wasn’t just happening in two countries. New generations of filmmakers began challenging the classical Hollywood style all over the world, from similar “New Waves” in Brazil, England, and Spain, to post-War Japanese Cinema, and the rise of post-colonial Third Cinema movements in Africa and South America. In a couple episodes, we’ll spend some time examining world cinema in more detail. Meanwhile, in the United States, that 1948 antitrust lawsuit we mentioned last time – United States versus Paramount Pictures, Inc. – forced the major studios to give up their theater chains. Suddenly, the marketplace was theoretically open to all kinds of films, not just whatever the biggest studios wanted to show in theaters. The Hollywood studios were stubborn, though, and didn’t want to give up their money and control to the tidal wave of brash, young filmmakers that was sweeping the rest of the world. But as the 1950s rolled into the 1960s, the studios found themselves in real trouble. Boy howdy! After losing their theater chains, they began facing stiff competition from television. As 1970 approached, the Baby Boom generation was coming of age, the war in Vietnam was in full swing, American politics was at its most violent since the Civil War, and studio films seemed increasingly out of touch. Ticket sales were falling, and studio executives were in an outright panic. Studio Executives like money, you guys. So in the late 1960s, a set of films seized the opportunity to challenge the studio system from both inside and outside. Two New York based magazine writers; David Newman and Robert Benton wrote a script called "Bonnie and Clyde" about a pair of charismatic depression era bank robbers on a crime spree. Their goal was to create an American film in the style of the French New Wave, and in fact they almost got François Truffaut to direct it. Arthur Penn directed the film instead, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, and after winning over some influential critics, it became a sensation. With its unapologetic sexuality, casual humor, and surprisingly brutal violence, Bonnie and Clyde was a watershed moment in the history of American film. It was made by Warner Brothers, but the film’s success led to a cascade of independent films – films made outside the major studio system. In 1969 Dennis Hopper partnered with Peter Fonda to make a motorcycle road movie set to a contemporary rock-and-roll soundtrack. Produced on a shoestring budget, Easy Rider became a massive financial and cultural success. In many ways, these two films – along with movies like The Graduate in 1967 and Midnight Cowboy in 1969 – ushered in an era of surprisingly personal, idiosyncratic American filmmaking… and proved that unique, original films could also make money. And so could Dustin Hoffman. At the same time, the older generation of studio executives began to retire. They probably were okay though. They probably retired on a beach somewhere very nice. In their place came a new crop of Hollywood decision makers who were shaped by the same societal forces as the younger filmmakers – like the rise of the counterculture, and Watergate-era politics. Suddenly, filmmakers with original visions who wanted to tell risky stories could get financed by major Hollywood studios. And that's the way it stayed until this day. NOPE! Directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian de Palma, and Robert Altman were supported by big studios, and made films that reached an audience hungry for something new and fresh on screen. This window of creative control and experimentation came to be called New Hollywood Cinema and lasted from about 1967 to 1980. And it came to an end for a few major reasons. Many of these New Hollywood filmmakers began working with larger and larger budgets, which put more pressure on them to succeed at the box office. For every Apocalypse Now – a film that seemed like a disaster that turned out to be a success – there was a Heaven’s Gate – a film that appeared to be a sure bet that flopped so hard it ruined a studio. And at the same time, filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were creating movies like Jaws, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Heard of 'em? Instead of overtly wrestling with the socio-political upheaval of the ‘60s and ‘70s, these films offered a chance to escape, a more pure form of entertainment that appealed to a wider audience. These were the first summer blockbusters, and their unexpected success signaled a swing away from the more risky, personal films of the previous decade. Plus, as all this was happening, the studios were being purchased by large, multinational corporations, which changed the way the studios worked. multi-national corporation ever purchases me. Gone were the days when a cigar-chomping studio boss decided which films got made based on his gut instinct. Instead, there were stockholders to satisfy, marketing departments to consult, and risk assessments to consider. Very corporate. Oooo, I love me some risk assessment. Film had always been a mix of art and commerce, but this period of blockbusters and corporate culture forever changed that balance. The major studios spent much of the 1980s making big movies that appealed to as many people as possible – films like E.T., Back to the Future, Die Hard, and Dirty Dancing. And, once again, the more unusual American films had to find other funding. The 1990s saw the arrival of a new set of independent filmmakers and mini-studios. Directors like Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino made films for independent companies like Miramax and New Line Cinema. It’s not a coincidence that many of these filmmakers came of age admiring the films of the New Hollywood Cinema. And while they didn’t have the resources of the major film studios, the success of films like Do the Right Thing; sex, lies, and videotape; and Pulp Fiction showed there was still a hunger for risky, original American films that continues to today. Today we talked about the rise of post-war film movements that reacted against the classical Hollywood filmmaking style. We saw the influence of Italian Neo-Realism and the French New Wave on the New Hollywood Cinema filmmakers of the 1970s. And we discussed the rise of the blockbuster of the 1980s and the resurgence of independent filmmaking in the 1990s. Next time, we’ll look at home video and how streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are a major force in recent film history. Crash Course Film History is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check out a playlist of their latest amazing shows, like PBS Infinite Series, It’s Okay to be Smart, and Gross Science. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these risk assessments and our amazing graphics team, is Thought Cafe.


Origins of the movement

Alexandre Astruc's manifesto "The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: The Camera-Stylo", published in L'Écran on 30 March 1948, outlined some of the ideas that were later expanded upon by François Truffaut and the Cahiers du cinéma.[7] It argues that "cinema was in the process of becoming a new means of expression on the same level as painting and the novel ... a form in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel. This is why I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of the caméra-stylo."[8]

Some of the most prominent pioneers among the group, including François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette, began as critics for the famous film magazine Cahiers du cinéma. Cahiers co-founder and theorist André Bazin was a prominent source of influence for the movement. By means of criticism and editorialization, they laid the groundwork for a set of concepts, revolutionary at the time, which the American film critic Andrew Sarris called auteur theory. (The original French La politique des auteurs, translated literally as "The policy of authors".) Bazin and Henri Langlois, founder and curator of the Cinémathèque Française, were the dual father figures of the movement. These men of cinema valued the expression of the director's personal vision in both the film's style and script.[9]

Truffaut also credits the American director Morris Engel and his film Little Fugitive (1953) with helping to start the French New Wave, when he said "Our French New Wave would never have come into being, if it hadn't been for the young American Morris Engel who showed us the way to independent production with (this) fine movie."[10]

The auteur theory holds that the director is the "author" of his movies, with a personal signature visible from film to film. They praised movies by Jean Renoir and Jean Vigo, and made then-radical cases for the artistic distinction and greatness of Hollywood studio directors such as Orson Welles, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. The beginning of the New Wave was to some extent an exercise by the Cahiers writers in applying this philosophy to the world by directing movies themselves.

Apart from the role that films by Jean Rouch have played in the movement, Chabrol's Le Beau Serge (1958) is traditionally (but debatably) credited as the first New Wave feature. Truffaut, with The 400 Blows (1959) and Godard, with Breathless (1960) had unexpected international successes, both critical and financial, that turned the world's attention to the activities of the New Wave and enabled the movement to flourish. Part of their technique was to portray characters not readily labeled as protagonists in the classic sense of audience identification.

The auteurs of this era owe their popularity to the support they received with their youthful audience. Most of these directors were born in the 1930s and grew up in Paris, relating to how their viewers might be experiencing life. With high concentration in fashion, urban professional life, and all-night parties, the life of France's youth was being exquisitely captured.[11]

The French New Wave was popular roughly between 1958 and 1964, although New Wave work existed as late as 1973. The socio-economic forces at play shortly after World War II strongly influenced the movement. Politically and financially drained, France tended to fall back on the old popular pre-war traditions. One such tradition was straight narrative cinema, specifically classical French film. The movement has its roots in rebellion against the reliance on past forms (often adapted from traditional novelistic structures), criticizing in particular the way these forms could force the audience to submit to a dictatorial plot-line. They were especially against the French "cinema of quality", the type of high-minded, literary period films held in esteem at French film festivals, often regarded as "untouchable" by criticism.

New Wave critics and directors studied the work of western classics and applied new avant garde stylistic direction. The low-budget approach helped filmmakers get at the essential art form and find what was, to them, a much more comfortable and contemporary form of production. Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, John Ford, and many other forward-thinking film directors were held up in admiration while standard Hollywood films bound by traditional narrative flow were strongly criticized.[citation needed] French New Wave is influenced by Italian Neorealism[1] and classical Hollywood cinema.[1]

In a 1961 interview, Truffaut said that "the 'New Wave' is neither a movement, nor a school, nor a group, it's a quality" and in December 1962 published a list of 162 film directors who had made their feature film debut since 1959. Many of these directors, such as Edmond Agabra and Henri Zaphiratos, were not as successful or enduring as the well-known members of the New Wave and today would not be considered part of it. Shortly after Truffaut's published list appeared, Godard publicly declared that the New Wave was more exclusive and included only Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer and himself, stating that "Cahiers was the nucleus" of the movement. Godard also acknowledged filmmakers such as Resnais, Astruc, Varda and Demy as esteemed contemporaries, but said that they represented "their own fund of culture" and were separate from the New Wave.[12]

Many of the directors associated with the New Wave continued to make films into the 21st century.[13]

Film techniques

The movies featured unprecedented methods of expression, such as long tracking shots (like the famous traffic jam sequence in Godard's 1967 film Week End). Also, these movies featured existential themes, such as stressing the individual and the acceptance of the absurdity of human existence. Filled with irony and sarcasm, the films also tend to reference other films.

Many of the French New Wave films were produced on tight budgets; often shot in a friend's apartment or yard, using the director's friends as the cast and crew. Directors were also forced to improvise with equipment (for example, using a shopping cart for tracking shots.[14]) The cost of film was also a major concern; thus, efforts to save film turned into stylistic innovations. For example, in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (À bout de souffle), after being told the film was too long and he must cut it down to one hour and a half he decided (on the suggestion of Jean-Pierre Melville) to remove several scenes from the feature using jump cuts, as they were filmed in one long take. Parts that did not work were simply cut from the middle of the take, a practical decision and also a purposeful stylistic one.[15]

The cinematic stylings of French New Wave brought a fresh look to cinema with improvised dialogue, rapid changes of scene, and shots that broke the common 180° axis of camera movement. In many films of the French New Wave, the camera was used not to mesmerize the audience with elaborate narrative and illusory images, but rather to play with audience expectations. Godard was arguably the movement's most influential figure; his method of film-making, often used to shock and awe audiences out of passivity, was abnormally bold and direct. As a result of his techniques, he is an early example of a director who was accused of having contempt for his audience (something experimental filmmakers in the decades ahead, like Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, would also be charged with)[citation needed]. His stylistic approach can be seen as a desperate struggle against the mainstream cinema of the time, or a degrading attack on the viewer's supposed naivety. Either way, the challenging awareness represented by this movement remains in cinema today. Effects that now seem either trite or commonplace, such as a character stepping out of their role in order to address the audience directly, were radically innovative at the time.

Classic French cinema adhered to the principles of strong narrative, creating what Godard described as an oppressive and deterministic aesthetic of plot. In contrast, New Wave filmmakers made no attempts to suspend the viewer's disbelief; in fact, they took steps to constantly remind the viewer that a film is just a sequence of moving images, no matter how clever the use of light and shadow. The result is a set of oddly disjointed scenes without attempt at unity; or an actor whose character changes from one scene to the next; or sets in which onlookers accidentally make their way onto camera along with extras, who in fact were hired to do just the same.

At the heart of New Wave technique is the issue of money and production value. In the context of social and economic troubles of a post-World War II France, filmmakers sought low-budget alternatives to the usual production methods, and were inspired by the generation of Italian Neorealists before them. Half necessity and half vision, New Wave directors used all that they had available to channel their artistic visions directly to the theatre.

Finally, the French New Wave, as the European modern Cinema, is focused on the technique as style itself. A French New Wave film-maker is first of all an author who shows in its film their own eye on the world.[16] On the other hand, the film as the object of knowledge challenges the usual transitivity on which all the other cinema was based, "undoing its cornerstones: space and time continuity, narrative and grammatical logics, the self-evidence of the represented worlds." In this way the film-maker passes "the essay attitude, thinking – in a novelist way – on his own way to do essays."[17]

Left Bank

The Left Bank, or Rive Gauche, group is a contingent of filmmakers associated with the French New Wave, first identified as such by Richard Roud.[18] The corresponding "right bank" group is constituted of the more famous and financially successful New Wave directors associated with Cahiers du cinéma (Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard).[18] Unlike the Cahiers group, these directors were older and less movie-crazed. They tended to see cinema akin to other arts, such as literature. However they were similar to the New Wave directors in that they practiced cinematic modernism. Their emergence also came in the 1950s and they also benefited from the youthful audience.[19] The two groups, however, were not in opposition; Cahiers du cinéma advocated for Left Bank cinema.[20]

Left Bank directors include Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Agnès Varda.[18] Roud described a distinctive "fondness for a kind of Bohemian life and an impatience with the conformity of the Right Bank, a high degree of involvement in literature and the plastic arts, and a consequent interest in experimental filmmaking", as well as an identification with the political left.[18] The filmmakers tended to collaborate with one another.[20] Jean-Pierre Melville, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Marguerite Duras are also associated with the group.[21] The nouveau roman movement in literature was also a strong element of the Left Bank style, with authors contributing to many of the films.

Left Bank films include La Pointe Courte, Hiroshima mon amour, La jetée, Last Year at Marienbad, and Trans-Europ-Express.

Influential names in the New Wave


Cahiers du cinéma directors

Left Bank directors

Other directors associated with the movement

Other contributors

Actors and actresses

Theoretical influences

Theoretical followers

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d Marie, Michel. The French New Wave : An Artistic School. Trans. Richard Neupert. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2002.
  2. ^ a b [1] Archived 11 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Grant 2007, Vol. 4, p. 235.
  4. ^ Grant 2007, Vol. 2, p. 259.
  5. ^ Truffaut, Francois (2018-04-16). "Une certaine tendance du cinéma français" (PDF).
  6. ^ Thompson, Kristin. Bordwell, David. Film History: An Introduction, Third Edition. McGraw Hill. 2010, p.407–408.
  7. ^ "La Camera Stylo - Alexandre Astruc". from "The French New Wave", edited by Ginette Vincendeau and Peter Graham. March 30, 1948. Retrieved June 13, 2017.
  8. ^ Marie, Michel (2008). The French New Wave: An Artistic School. John Wiley & Sons. p. 31. ISBN 9780470776957.
  9. ^ Thompson, Kristin. Bordwell, David. Film History: An Introduction, Third Edition. McGraw Hill. 2010, p.407
  10. ^ Sterritt, David. "Lovers and Lollipops". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  11. ^ Thompson, Kristin. Bordwell, David. Film History: An Introduction, Third Edition. McGraw Hill. 2010, p.409
  12. ^ Brody, Richard (2008). Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-0-8050-8015-5.
  13. ^ Scott, A. O. (June 25, 2009). "Living for Cinema, and Through It". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Champs-Élysées street scene in Godard's Breathless. Girdner, Ashlee (March 11, 2013). "Back to the Scene: The Champs Elysees in Breathless and Beyond". Bonjour Paris. Retrieved April 2, 2016. The solution for this was to hide Coutard inside of a three wheeled mail cart, which was fitted with a hole just big enough for the camera lens to stick out, and he then would be pushed alongside the chatting stars.
  15. ^ "Breathless (1960)" – via
  16. ^ Pasolini, Pier Paolo (1988–2005). Heretical empiricism. New Academia Publishing. p. 187 of the Italian Edition published by Garzanti in 1972. ISBN 9780976704225. ISBN 0-9767042-2-6.
  17. ^ Sainati, Augusto (1998). Supporto, soggetto, oggetto: forme di costruzione del sapere dal cinema ai nuovi media, in Costruzione e appropriazione del sapere nei nuovi scenari tecnologici (in Italian). Napoli: CUEN. pp. 154–155.
  18. ^ a b c d "The Left Bank Revisited: Marker, Resnais, Varda", Harvard Film Archive, [2] Access date: 16 August 2008.
  19. ^ Thompson, Kristin. Bordwell, David. Film History: An Introduction, Third Edition. McGraw Hill. 2010, p.412
  20. ^ a b Jill Nelmes, An Introduction to Film Studies, p. 44. Routledge.
  21. ^ Donato Totaro, Offscreen, Hiroshima Mon Amour review, 31 August 2003. [3] Access date: 16 August 2008.
  22. ^ a b New Wave, "Where to Start Guide", section outlining directors. Accessed 30 Apr 2009.

External links

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