Tuesday, 14 August 2012

History and Development of French New Wave

Retrieved from http://www.newwavefilm.com/images/Francois_Truffaut_Nouvelle_Vague_Guide.jpg

Getting to grips with the New Wave might thus understandably seem a daunting prospect for somebody wanting to discover for the first time what the movement is all about. With that in mind, this introduction will offer some suggestions as to where to start your investigations of New Wave cinema. This article is meant to act as an introduction to the context and a walk through of some of the basic ideas surrounding the New Wave, as well as an overview of the seminal "must see" films which best define the movement.

Based on Nelmes (1996) in 1959 which is the birth of the Nouvelle had a profound impact on the way cinema developed in France after the Second World War and on the kinds of film made in that country. Despite this, The Nouvelle Vague represented a significant break with the tradition de qualite and brought into filmmaking a large number of younger directors. Those director who came to prominence through the New Wave and who have remained major names in the pantheon of European “auteur” directors include Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais, Chris Marker and Agnes Varda.

The phrase “New Wave” (Ia Nouvelle Vague) refers to a group of film-makers who between the end of the 1950s and early to mid-1960s in France, momentarily transformed French cinema and had a great impact on film-makers throughout the world. Those directors who came to prominence through the New Wave and who have remained major names in the pantheon of European “auteur” director include Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and so on. The term New Wave was coined by a journalist named Francoise Giroud who wrote a series of article on French youth for the weekly news magazine L’Express.(Nelmes ,1996)

After the occupation by Nazi, the American cinema is return back to screen.This exposure to Hollywood films was a formative influence on the young critics who would become the director of the New Wave in the late 1950s.For them,America film was more vital,more varied and considerably more exciting than the postwar productions of the French industry which they derided as le cinema de papa. . (Nelmes, 1996)

A Bout de Soufflé (Breathless) (Godard, 1960)

A group of directors, Truffaut, Godart, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette and Rohmer who had all worked as critics for Cahiers du cinema in the 1950s had a habit of attacking the most artistically respected French filmmaker of the day. Writing criticism didn’t satisfy these young men. They itched to make movies by borrowed money .At the end of the decade, they began to make films. Their talent was recognized when Truffaut’s first feature film, Les Quatre Cent Coups was awarded the critics prized at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and the Nouvelle Vague quickly became a marketing slogan in the pro-Gaullist press to promote the idea that with the change of regime in 1958 France had been regenerated and rejuvenated. (Forbes, 1998)

Besides that, Rivette filmed Paris nous Appartient (Paris belong to us), Godard made A Bout de soufflé (Breathless), Chabrol made his second feature Les Cousins .The novelty and youthful vigor of these directors led journalists to nickname them La nouvelle vague-the New Wave. Their output was staggering, the five central directors made 32 feature films between 1959 and 1966.Godard and Chabrol made 11 apiece. (Bordwell, 2008)

Claude Chabrol’s Les bonnes femmes (1960).

The Nouvelle Vague gave a new lease of life to French cinema, which had survived the 1950s with declining audiences but which with the spread of television was about to lose its mass audience for good. The government supported the industry through enforced quotas, bank had invested heavily and there was a flourishing business of international coproduction. New Wave directors shot films much more quickly and cheaply then did reigning directors and could be designated as ‘art movies’. Moreover the young director helped one another out and thus reduced the financial risk of the established companies. Thus the French industry supported the New Wave through distribution, exhibition and production. (Forbes, 1998)

The final moment of radical change to affect the French cinema was the revolt of May 1968. Filmmakers were involved in a number of ways, they demonstrated in support of Henri Langlois, the director of the Cinematheque and against government proposals to take over the organization. Many filmmakers like Jean-Luc-Godard were involved in making so-called Cinetracts or film leaflets. These were film records of events in the streets and public buildings that were intended to serve as a counterweight to the strongly pro-Gaullist ORTF television service. This long term effects of May 1968 were to throw into sharp relief the ideology of the Nouvelle Vague. It’s also marked the divergence of the careers of Nouvelle Vague directors and revealed how fragile and temporary the apparent homogeneity of the group had been.


Nelmes.J. (1996).An Introduction to Film Studies. (3rd Ed).Rout ledge London.

Hill.J&Gibson.P.C. (1998).The Oxford Guide to Film Studies. (3rd).Oxford
University Press.

Thompson, K. & Bordwell, D. (2010). Film History: An Introduction (8rd Ed.). New
York, NY: McGraw Hill.

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