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Nouvelle Vague

Film History: A History of French Cinema - The Old Ones, the Good Ones (Part 1)

Film, Art, Culture, HistoryTrey TakahashiComment

Anna Karina, starlet of many of Jean-Luc Godard's film appearing in Le Petit Soldat.

For the longest time I had a very strong opinions when it came to French cinema, I used to say “Oh boy, I hate today’s French movies. It might be very well filmed with textbook cinematography, however they are very dark and depressing. What happened to the French film industry that had influenced a generation of film makers? Why do modern French films pale in comparison to those our countrymen had produced in the sixties?”

François Truffaut stands outside of cinema showing Charbol's Le Beau Serge, one of the first New Wave films.

The 1960s is marked as possibly the greatest time in French cinema history. The new film movement, known French new wave, hit the scene and revolutionized the way people saw film, viewed color, and how they lived a story. It was an explosion of innovation and self-conscious films by young filmmakers living in a time of rejection, revolution, and renaissance. This movement was led by critics from Les Cahier du Cinema. Among them, the famous Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Éric Rohmer, Jacques Demy, and Claude Chabrol. Their approach to film-making broke away from what French cinema was used to. Those young directors revolutionized the way of filming and producing. They rejected the traditional way of storytelling and created a new language. Leaving the film studios, New Wave directors began to film more outside, using the natural environment or city as their backdrop. New methods of editing and shooting films broke through limitations in the way in which narrative was created in the cinema. The invention of Nagra-brand tape recorders, of the 16mm movie camera, proclaimed a new aesthetics, much closer to real life.

Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve) and her husband Pierre (Jean Sorel)  in Belle de Jour "Beauty of the Day" (1967)

In early 70s, cinema attendance was on the decline. On one hand, France was facing the birth of a movement that would influence generations of directors. On another hand, Frenchmen were disinterested and attendance at the theaters was sparse. With the rising popularity of TV and video cassettes, French cinema was beginning to experience the crisis that it still faces to this day.

Les Films 13: Claude Lelouch shooting with a Caméflex camera

The Nouvelle Vague was a major influence on the next generation of American directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese. This style has continued to inspire many major figures in contemporary American cinema, including Steven Soderbergh, and Wes Anderson, professing admiration for the movement and employing many of its techniques.

The directors of the New Wave continue to have a profound influence on cinema and popular culture. Some, like Godard, still make films. And If you have time, go watch his latest film « Adieu au Language "Goodbye to Language" (2014) or one of his classics Une femme est une femme "A Woman is a Woman" (1961), both well worth a watch.

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