Monday, 13 August 2012

Characteristics of French New Wave Films

The exclusive experience of French New Wave filmmakers was manifest in their films. They always insisted on a naturalistic style. This lead to a few conventions that indicate most New Wave films.


Unlike all classical Hollywood films, French New Wave films tend to break the rules of continuity editing and using free editing style. The directors of French New Wave often drew attention from audiences by discontinuity, reminding them that they are watching a movie. For example, the editing style they always used is jump cut. According to Nichols (2010), a jump cut is a mismatch, in which the shift from one shot to the next fails to maintain smooth continuity in space or time. In Jean Luc Godard's A Bout De Soufflé (Breathless, 1960), we can see a lot of jump cuts. Below, we show the example of the car driving scene in Paris from this film.

 Retrieved from A Bout De Souffle (Breathless), 1960.

Shoot on Location & Natural Sound

The directors of French New Wave had admired the Neorealists especially Rossellini, and in opposition to studio filmmaking, they decided to shoot on location. They replaced the glossy studio light with natural and available light. Thus, the French New Wave films always look natural and casual. In addition, they also doing experiment of the sound. Unlike studio filmmaking which remixing the sound, French New Wave directors recorded the sound during shooting and did not do any correction. For example, in A Bout De Soufflé , the sound come after action and the highway scene was shoot on location  

Highway scene (Michel driving).  Retrieved from A Bout De Souffle (Breathless), 1960.

Michel following a guy in a lift, Godard did not use any lighting. Thus, the scene looks dark.  Retrieved from A Bout De Souffle (Breathless), 1960.

Low Budget/ Budgetary Restrictions

After World War II, France undergoes an economic crisis. Thus, the amount of investment in filmmaking is very low. Many films were produces on low budget. To produce a film, French New Wave directors borrowed friend's apartment or yard, using the director's friends as the cast and crew. For example, in A Bout De Soufflé, the protagonist talking with his girlfriend in the apartment and the room of protagonist in Agnes Varda's Cleo From 5 to 7.

The room looks small. Scene from A Bout De Souffle (Breathless), 1960. 

The room looks big but empty. Scene from Cleo From 5 to 7.
Retrieved from

Hand-held Cameras

While watching French New Wave films, we will discover some scene look very shaky and unstable. It is because the directors took advantages of the new technology which developed by Eclair company that was available to them in the late 1950s- lightweight hand-held camera. This hand-held camera allowed them to shoot on location easily and creating many long tracking shoot. In these films, often only one camera was used. The directors used the camera to follow characters walking along the streets, into cafes and bars, or looking over their shoulders to catch their point of view. In Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962), Agnes Varda used many tracking shots to follow Cleo along Parisian streets.

 Retrieved from Cleo de 5 a 7 (Cleo From 5 to 7), 1962.

Improvised Plot & Dialogue

In opposition to the classical filmmaking, the directors of French New Wave often shot their films with loose structure and open-ended storyline. They did not wrap their climax tidily. For example, the ending of Cleo From 5 to 7. Besides that, much of the story is made up very close to the time of the shooting. They did not plan well before shooting and the dialogue was often change or write the same day it was read. Sometimes, the actors are giving the general idea of the scene. Thus, the dialogue sometimes was not related to the storyline at all. Below, I show the example of a conversation in a hotel scene from A Bout De Soufflé (1960).

 Retrieved from A Bout De Souffle (Breathless), 1960.

Anti-authoritarian Protagonist

When we watch French New Wave films, the protagonist in these films were always marginalized, young anti-heroes, and alienated loners, they live with no family ties, behave spontaneously, and often act immorally. They frequently seen as anti- authoritarian. For example, the protagonist in A Bout De Soufflé was a car thief, he killed policeman, steal money from his girlfriend, and spent his time to avoiding capture. While in Varda's Cleo From 5 to 7 (1961), the protagonist run away from the roles others expected from her after she discovered that she have cancer, she decided to live her own life.

Michel (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo) in A Bout De Soufflé was a car thief.
Retrieved from

Cleo (played by Corinne Marchand) in Cleo From 5 to 7 meets a soldier in Parc Montsouris. 
Retrieved from   


Pramaggiore & Wallis (March, 2011). ‘Breaking the rules: The French New Wave and its Influence’, Film: A Critical Introduction 3rd Edition, USA & Canada. Allyn & Bacon: pp.215-217.

Kolker, Robert (2001) ‘Chapter 5: The Stories Told by Film’, Film Form, and Culture, New York, McGraw-Hill: pp. 199-100.

Bordwell & Thompson (2009) ‘The French New wave (1959-1964)’, Film Art: An Introduction, New York, McGraw-Hill: pp.475-477.

Nichols, Bill (2010). " Chapter 1: Film as A Language", Engaging Cinema: An Introduction to Film Studies, New York. W.W.Norton &Company, Inc: pg 46.

Agnes Varda (Director) & Georges de Beauregard (Producer). April 11, 1962. Cleo de 5 a 7 (Cleo From 5 to 7). France.

Jean-Luc Godard (Director) & Georges de Beauregard (Producer). March 16, 1960. A Bout De Soufflé (Breathless). France. UGC.


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