What is the French New Wave?
French New Wave, which is also known as French Nouvelle Vague, can be considered as one of the most influential film movements that took place in the history of cinema. The ripples created by this cinematic movement can even be felt today. A group of critics, who wrote for a French film journal called Cahiers du Cinema, created the film movement.
It began as a movement against the traditional path that French Cinema followed, which was more like literature. The French New Wave had the potential to bring a radical change to French cinema.
Few of the leading French movie directors supported the French New Wave at its inception. They include Jacques Demy, Agnes Varda, Alain Resnais, Louis Malle, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, and Francois Truffaut.
These directors have produced hundreds of movies to the French cinema industry and their involvement created a tremendous impact on the success of French New Wave. As a result, many other French directors were influenced by it, which created an ideal platform to deploy the radical change that the French cinema industry required.
How did the French New Wave movement originate?
The manifesto of Alexandre Astuc, The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: The Camera-Stylo can be considered as the starting point of the French New Wave movement. This event took place in 1948. This manifesto outlined several ideas that were explained by Cahiers du cinema and François Truffaut at a later stage.
They argued that the French cinema was similar to the literature, which expresses the same ideas that are depicted in novels and paintings. In other words, the artists at that time used movies to voice their thoughts. Some of the leading film producers, whose names are mentioned above, wanted to change it and this is the birth of the radical movement in the history of French cinema.
Morris Engel, who was an American film director, also contributed a lot towards the French New Wave. He produced a movie called Little Fugitive back in 1953 as he was impressed with the concept of French New Wave. This film clearly shows how the cinema industry in France got International support to carry forward the much-needed move. The French movie producers still appreciate the contribution of Morris Engel.
During the French New Wave movements, particular attention was paid towards the theory called auteur theory. As per auteur theory, the director of a movie is also the producer of it.
Therefore, the directors took necessary measures to add a personal signature to the film. The directors who lived in France at that time praised the films produced by Jean Vigo and Jean Renoir because they were pioneer figures who fought against this theory.
They were able to create few memorable films with the help of talented script writers. The participation of script writers helped them to stay away from adding their personal opinions and views into the movies that they created.
Jean Rouch can also be considered as a prominent figure in the French New Wave. The first new wave feature came out at this point. It was delivered along with the movie Le Beau Serge by Chabrol. The trend continued for few more years as well, where few other movies such as Godard, The 400 Blows, and Truffaut came out with similar features.
These movies became popular in international film industries in an unexpected manner. In fact, it received both financial as well as critical success. This made the entire world talk about the French New Wave. As a result, a perfect platform was created for the movement to flourish. The characters who took part in the movies that were produced during the radical change were not labeled as protagonists. This created a positive impression on their minds as well.
The auteurs also played a tremendous role during the French New Wave movement. That’s because they received excellent support from the youth audiences. Most of the directors who helped the French New Wave were born during the 1930s. On the other hand, a large percentage of them spend their childhood in Paris.
As a result, they have a clear understanding about how people in Paris experience their life. All night parties, urban professional life, and concentration in fashion were hugely popular among youth who lived in Paris. These skills assisted the directors to support the movement with radical inputs.
The French New Wave was roughly famous in between 1958 and 1964. The movement came to an end by 1973. Even though it was finished at that time, the influencing effects existed for several decades.
The international popularity of French New Wave
As mentioned earlier, many other countries in the world were aware of French New Wave during the 1950s and 1960s. It created an impact on the International movie industry as well. The big radical change introduced by the French New Wave played a tremendous role behind the fact mentioned above.
In fact, the French New Wave was powered up by the social and cultural change that came out after the World War II. During this time, some lateral movements also existed in the world. The Free Cinema movement existed in Britain during the 1950s, and the French New Wave even influenced it.
The neighboring countries of France had some like-minded movie producers. They took the initiative to implement the radical change introduced by French New Wave in their countries as well. Most of these young directors were Communist controlled individuals. As a result, they had the potential to create a tremendous impact on the society.
Ivan Passer, Vera Chytilova, and Milos Forman are some of the leading movie producers who lived in Czechoslovakia at that time and took necessary measures to promote French New Wave and its changes to the International film industries. Likewise, few other producers from Poland such as Jerzy Skolimowski and Roman Polanski also contributed towards the global popularity of the movement. Even though these producers wanted to implement the changed proposed by French New Wave, they did not have required assistance.
As a result, they chose non-professional actors and continued with shooting on location. The French New Wave was popular in Italy as well. Young producers such as Marco Bellocchio and Bernardo Bertolucci were inspired by the radical changes that were introduced by this movement in France. As a result, they promoted those changes within Italy.
French New Wave was not only popular in European countries. It also became a popular film movement in Brazil and Japan. Producers such as Glauber Rocha and Nagisa Oshima made movies devoted to the New Wave as a result of it; this helped them to take international social conventions to a whole new level.
The popularity of French New Wave in the United States is notable as well. The USA was known as the heartland of commercial cinema. The film industry in the USA had its very own movement, which was led by a filmmaker named John Cassavetes. He gave life to some interesting movies such as Faces in 1968 and Shadows in 1958, which created a tremendous impact on the New Wave movement.
The New Wave movement initiated by John Cassavetes and the French New Wave movement had similarities among them. That must be because John Cassavetes was researching a lot about the French new wave at that time. He must have got some inputs from the French New Wave, which was hugely popular at that moment in time. Therefore, the French New Wave has created an impact on the American movie industry as well.
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How the French New Wave Changed Film History Forever
French New Wave took place 50 years back. Now you must be wondering why we should pay our attention towards it. As you can see, the French New Wave has been able to bring some revolutionary changes to the movie industry in France.
Also, it created a tremendous impact on the film industries that existed in many other countries. The result generated by this movement was not only restricted to Europe. It became famous around the world as well and its concepts influenced a lot of directors. These ideas have created the layout for the popularity of alternative cinema, which exist in today’s world.
Without French New Movement, there won’t be Bertolucci, Oshima, and Wenders. On the other hand, advertising, fashion, and music would be done without any major point of reference.
Therefore, the French New Wave was capable of taking the world to a whole new level. It can also be considered as the most revolutionary movement that took place in movie industry during the 20th Century. Without the New Wave, no film would be open. You would not even like the movies that you can see out there. Therefore, even future generations would appreciate the commitment of the founders of French New Wave and the influence they created.
Top 20 Best French New Wave Films
- Breathless (1960)
- Jules et Jim (François Truffaut, 1962)
- 400 Blows Les Quatre Cents Coups (François Truffaut, 1959)
- Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)
- Band of Outsiders Bande à part (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)
- Eyes without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960)
- Lift to the Scaffold (Louis Malle, 1958)
- Bob le flambeur (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1956)
- Vivre sa vie (Jean-Luc Godard, 1962)
- Les Cousins (Claude Chabrol, 1959)
- Paris nous appartient (Jacques Rivette, 1961)
- Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
- Les Bonnes Femmes (1960)
- Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
- Lola (1961)
- Four by Agnes Varda Adieu Philippine (1962)
- Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)
- Contempt (Le Mépris) (1963)
- Claire’s Knee (1970)
- Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974)
Video Essay: How the French New Wave Changed Cinema
Ah, the French New Wave, the film movement on which many young cinephiles cut their teeth. It’s hip, moody black-and-white stories of love, violence, ennui, and social strife provide a perfect entrance into the private-made-public world of cinema. This remarkably detailed video essay both gives us the history of the movement and explains why its disjunctive essence has been so important to today’s filmmakers.
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VIDEO ESSAY-RAOUL COUTARD
SPEAKER 1: The French New Wave for a brief moment ripped apart classical cinema and established their own language of cinema, but what fascinates me here today is the genesis of the French new wave and how Raoul Coutard cinematography plays a relatively unsung new brawl in the French New Wave’s look.
A quick new cap on what the French New Wave is, there were these four film critics who had an ambitious purpose in making film.
RICHARD BRODY: To do in cinema what (name 42) did in philosophy but in his view to do it better because of the distinctive ecstatic capacities of film.
SPEAKER 1: These four cinifiles(54) love film and distained conventional cinema they stopped searching for films they liked and jumped right into making their own films with essentially no training whatsoever.
During their inception they usually film on location and with either no crew or equipment beyond one camera and one camera man.
Raoul Coutard’s background id fascinating he was a war photographer and this became essential for him to work with someone as impossible as John the running gun style is perfect for the theme of Breathless the first Godard film.
It was simple audaciously un done before and only as open of mind as Coutard had been on board, but see that’s why Raul Coutard seems more and more to be the only cinematographer that could have worked with these types.
Raul Coutard had no reputation before his first films with the new wave directors because otherwise like trained cinematographers he would have been caught up in conventions and feared his reputation being on the line as an unconventional method pervaded the scenes.
Raul Coutard styles is described as having no style he was all over the place and I mean that in the best of ways this made sense as Coutard had no come to the industry with any text book training in fact he came with no training at all except with still photography.
Just another aspect of Coutard’s perspective towards film making that meant that he must have had truly an open mind.
See Coutard would just give the actress dialogue as they went along from shot to shot. They would walk into a space and Coutard would just say put the camera over there but what about something as crazy as to insure that no passerby would look into the camera when filming Breathless .
They would hide the camera in a low postman’s cart and go push is along (3:13)right next to the camera hunched down inside the cart as well. So why does this matter why didn’t they just earn the money to film conventionally, because to them the conventional cinema time was far detached from French life at the time not only was there a goal to observe French life but to also interpret meaning from life in general.
What did it mean to be in love or to search one’s self for identity? What did it mean to be alive and how to fight the of nihilism. What is French cinema and what is American cinema. What does it mean to make films most importantly what it mean to truly go along in natural moments.
Raoul Coutard’s shots never lost the sense of natural lightning. Raoul Coutard never loss the sense of a hand held.
After years of revolution finally (4:23) and in the time still shoots his films like old times. After years of frustrations, the marginalized critics felt the disdain for conventional cinema revolutionized filmmaking with their unconventional cinema techniques forwarding a philosophical meditation on world views to the medium of films and doing a completely low budget.
All it took were open minds working on films pushing the medium further, who better than to be the hand that paint the picture than him. Who better to be the cinematographer for the French New Wave than Raoul Coutard.
THE RULES OF EDITING FRENCH & AMERICAN
After world war two Hollywood continue to make movies in the same way it had before the war although editors were now unionized they were viewed for the most part as highly skilled mechanics.
PAUL HIRSCH: There was a man names Owen Marks he edited Touch by Forrest, Casa Blanca, Treasure Sierra Madre, East of Eden and his films are immortal and the man is completely unknown and it is sort of symbolic of the way editors have been ignored in the literature about Hollywood.
SPEAKER 1: Editors worked on Cutters Row and were expected to conform to the established rules of editing.
CAROL LITTLETON: If we were to think about the films that were being made there were a certain film language that were very, very distinct certain kinds of coverage long shot two shot single, single there was almost a formulate way of presenting films. This film language was very strict and in editorial terms there were rules that one felt could not be broken.
DEDE ALLEN: A master shot had to come first and then if you had an overshot then over shoulder and you never went to the close up until you have done the whole dance coming from far to close.
CAROL LITTLETON: For instance if you are going to have a transition from one place to the next you will be down for dissolve.
The next thing you got to remember is the gentleman you meet at the cold cut is not as attractive as the one you meet at the milk department at food doors.(1:35)
PAUL HIRSCH: In the forties and fifties the audience would expect a character to drive up and show them getting out of the car he would walk up to the building and then he would open the door and then he would match cut the door opening on the other side and he would walk in and come over and sit down.
ANNE COATES: It just seem to me absolutely stupid you had to show somebody coming down stairs and all the way across the road and to the side I mean you knew they were coming from here and going to there, why couldn’t you just cut directly.
SPEAKER 2: In France a group of film critics turn directors also challenged the doctrine of invisible editing and launched a revolution among editors.
ANNE COATES: When I first saw the (2:23) I instantly loved it I loved the idea I loved the way they edited and thought I would like to cut like that.
JOE DANTE: You know Godard use jump cuts because why not there isn’t nothing interesting happening in these middle parts so let’s cut to the jump cut.
ANTHONY GIBBS: When I saw the betters I was Stuttgart(2:52) at Godard’s brutality
QUENTIN TARANTINO: What they brought to editing was a breaking of the rules whatever books that said this is how it had to be done they burn them.
MARTIN SCORSES: Actress are too hip for me I come from Lorie Simon Italian American guy it is too beat, beat neck it’s like you know bulimia too cool I liked it I don’t know what the hell was happening.
RICHARD CHEW: You know when I first saw breathless in the sixties it was like wow I mean just in the first five minutes sequence and introducing John Paul Armandos character as a petit thief I mean every rule was violated in terms of how long to over shot the discontinuity of what was going on, even screen directions you know were mixed in and I thought either this guy doesn’t know what he was doing or he is so confident that he has the grammar film down that he is trying to show us a new way he used the material he has to tell the story.
RICHARD MARKS: There were some films that we had that really changed our perception of what filmmaking was and certainly it affected what editing was. I mean I think one of those films was certainly something like Bonnie & Clyde.
DEDE ALLEN: Some people say I broke those rues first I certainly did not, I mean the Russian broke those rules and the Germans broke those rules this was nothing new but it was new for Hollywood.
DYLAN TICHENOR: Several of those editors have had big impacts on me have influenced my thinking, Dede Allen certainly was the one that taught me that don’t be afraid to take the chance on doing something that doesn’t seem like it is going to work.
When Babe and Faye Donaway get to know each other they are standing on the street corner and she said I don’t believe you rob banks and he said yes I look at my gun and he pulls it out and hold it to her on the street corner and that could easily have been done with the tilt down to the gun the pan over to her hands fidgeting with the coke bottle up to her face, but it was done with her eyes looked from him down to the gun back to him.
It keeps you on edge there is this statement there is the danger there is the eroticism in not being able to fully get every moment because you are cutting off and you are not allowing moment to come to fruition.
RICHARD MARKS: Bonnie & Clyde was much more violent and basically the American likes violence much more than we do.
DEDE ALLEN: Well it was shot in so many wonderful ways this is the scene that Arthur intended be cut in this fashion, the fact that it was so beautifully executed right from the very first cut Jerry Greenburg was my assistant and on that last seen I was with Jerry and he did all the primary editing on that all I did was tighten it later.
RICHARD MARKS: Again one is not saying this is the beginning of the American any way because one is sure there was smaller films before that but this was the one like birth of a nation which suddenly an audio say wow.
Bonnie and Clyde paved the way for films like Easy Rider.
DON CAMBERN: So I had only one feature I was editing while they were travelling which was flowing in by the mile but it was great it was exciting it was totally different from anything I have been involved in these transitions that everybody remembers going in from one scene to the next where it flashed forward to the scene flashes back to the scene you are in.
Dennis didn’t want a straight cut I didn’t want dissolved so we kept throwing around so it is Dennis who scripted part of the idea why went and it came back yes, but let’s us do it three times we finally arrived at the length and each one is six screens and now we can use this whenever we want to and as it turned out it started to have a device and so we stopped doing that we are not going to do we are going to use in discretion places without giving anything away.
Everybody was stoned and they were shitty. I learned sooner on that I could not be stoned and edit while it was going on I thought it was grand and when I looked at it when I was straight I said this is awful and I had to throw it out and start all over.
This film is becoming an icon I am grateful that I had something to do with it because I had grown up in the thirties forties and fifties with movies as they were then. Finally we are going to run it for Columbia with Bill Jackie Chairman of the board it ended there was this long pause Bill finally stands up and he says I dint know what the fuck this picture means but I know we are going to make a fuck of a lot of money.
REAR WINDOW – FRENCH NEW WAVE
It is quite difficult when we look at God as the early films to separate them out from the other new wave directors people like (45) they all looked as if they are very much of the group they really stands out amongst that crowd certainly from the mid sixties onwards was that he just retained that kind of ferocious interrogation of cinema of the functions of cinema and of how cinema interacts with the world.
So I think there is that combination of on one hand curiosity intellectual curiosity but also just a really sharp almost philosophical intelligence that was fuelling that interrogation. One of the things that is interesting about Godard is that his work is instantly recognizable.
He walks just a few seconds of a shot and there is something about the lighting the framing the way the person moves. There are very, very few film makers that have been able to achieve that degree of that kind of signature to their work.
Godard starts out as a critic as a show film maker in the nineteen fifties breaks into feature film making with A Bout De Souffle (Breathless) as a massive international hit and basically sets him up for the rest of his career and then that sort of a first flourishing work which is really in relations to Hollywood and fuelled by a kind a cine flick engagement with cinema history continues from late fifties to about 1965.
What is so interesting about the film is that you are immediately launched into this kind of weird and wonderful world a kind of Syfy adventure set in contemporary Paris it is playful but it is also deadly serious in its critic of the commodification of Paris so I think it combines that engagement with Hollywood genre but also a political critic of the nefarious affects of capitalism and it brings together those two things in an absolutely perfect way.
I think it is very powerful very playful and very poetic it is beautiful film and there is a shift with (3:27) in particular but then films which (3:31) where Godard’s work takes on a more a sociological dimension he is more interested in engaging with society with contemporary France with pressing issues around consumers than around capitalism and then that leads into the collaborative work that he conducts with the (3:56) group from 1968 to 1972.
From 1973 Godard moves out of Parish moved first to (name4:11) and then to Holand Switzerland and then during that period he is really interested in multimedia and that period which included two massive TV series runs to 1979 then he returns to European art cinema which (4:30) in 1980 and then there is a period.
There is a kind of cycle of films that is often thought of as a kind of the films of the sublime to do with beauty we are going to engaging again with the history of painting the history of music basically the history of kind of classical art and trying to recuperate that back into the history of cinema and those films they are kind of fuels by the question of how to make images. What constitute a poetic image in cinema that is both informed by but different from all these other (5:11).
The lesser half of the eighties are characterized by a couple of quite difficult philosophical films King Layer and (5:19). It is also the period where he begins to work extensively on (5:25) cinema so he is big video graphic films history project is going to really dominate his work really over the decade from the mid late eighties to the end of the nineteen nineties.
When he completed is (5:38) cinema there was a kind of sense that he had come to the end of a massive project I think may critics almost write him off as though you know that’s it as he often does when people think he is he works himself into a dead end he came out with a completely new project which was the gallery installation in 2006 at the (name 6:01) centre and then since then he has product a string of highly experimental features alongside a lot of video essays.
If we look at a film like Adieu Au Language his recent foray in 3D it has been phenomenally successful with all audiences around the globe both young old the Goddard veterans but also those coming to his work for the first time.
Very, very often Godard’s work gets rejected or it gets classified as being difficult or being in accessible or elitist or whatever when it comes out but then a decade later or a couple of decade later it is reclassified as a classic and it actually becomes much more accessible.
I think that one of the things that became actually an obsession for Godard particularly in the late seventies and into the eighties was what is uniquely cinematic, what is cinema in the sense of how do we put together certain elements in a way that isn’t pre planned to create something that is absolutely unique and to allows some kind of insight that comes directly out of the imagining sound rather than out of written or spoken language.
The Godard classic narrative is intrinsically tied up with capitalism. Something that distinguish him slightly from some of his colleagues at the time the new wave is that he is coming out of a deep engagement with an awareness of political modernism.
He was familiar with experimental writings of people like Faulkner and Joyce and so on that through his sense of ability and experimentation that was to fuel his experimentation with narrative.
Godard’s relation to politics is fascinating and quite complex. There is one period that is the period of the (9:35) group where he is basically align himself with a kind of malice and political line everywhere else in his work his politics is really, really difficult to read and in all of his works and a very good example of this is Le Petit Soldat which is his second film which was band because of it illusion to torture and war.
The politic was a very young player what’s characteristic of that film is that it just wound everybody up because it seemed to be, it wasn’t a tool obvious of the way he was positioning himself.
I think what was interesting about that film in relation to his later work is that in his later work very often there are conflicting political position within a single work which are kind of yoked together and they are presented and they are presented as a problem or a question.
Looking again on some of the group universal film some of the political films they are much more interesting than they are often given credit for. There is a film from 1968 called (10:47) a film like any other Godard basically kind of film students and worker in discussion about the implications of the events in May 1968 which is inter cut with Al kibo (11:00) footage of the events that have gone on from May throughout the rest of May of 1968 and seeing it again recently it just struck me that they gave an absolutely fantastic.
The historical glimpse into the mentality of that period better written than any other film I can think of, the key concerns that the few of Godard’s work for that period is an attempt to find some kind of constructive dialogue between intellectuals and workers.
As for Godard’s representation of women it is complex and it is more interesting than is often recognized. There is a time in the late sixties and then into the late seventies where Godard starts engaging with feminist this is probably through (12:09) for example in (12:10) in 1975 (name)the female unit is cited fairly extensively on the sound tract.
It is not as if Godard is unaware of his use of the naked female body in his films. British sounds quite a good example because there we have a young naked woman where the text on the sound track which is just opposed with the representation of that body is basically one it is a feminist text about the exploitation of women in society and the exploitation of the images of women.
If Godard lesson own works which is TV series from 1976 that Godard navo made a very short notice within a very that is just a perfect Godard interruption.