How New was the New Wave?

 Imagine a typical French caffé where young friend groups are listening Francoise Hardy, chatting about contemporary movies indistinctly and there are some Cahiers du cinemas on the table. This is how we can imagine the French New wave’s vibe around the late 1950s.

The New wave made it possible to think about films without limits, it went against the mainstream French cinema, being more specific against the ’cinéma du papa’ ( daddy’s cinema) as Truffaut called it.  ’Cinéma du papa’ was a closed club where you had to work your way through the system otherwise you are not accepted, it was not challenging and really out of tune. The main characters of this movement such as Bazin, Godard, Truffaut are always tried to get inspired by American creators and impacts.  “It was a time of reconstruction and consolidation for the industry, which  for most of the period succeeded in attracting more spectators to French than to American films” (Powrie, P. & Reader, K. ,2002.) One of the New wave’s key point was to change the method where the producers and the scriptwriters were controlling the whole process without giving any central roles to the directors.These changes were based on America, following Hitchock’s footprints.The movement was all about innovation in an experimental way. Therefore they started to use unique styles, individual methods and different views leading to realism. “I prefer to work from real life.I like the material to be true to life.” (Truffaut, Cinema! Cinema! The French New Wave, 1992.)

I cannot go further in this topic without introducing the movie Á bout de souffle (Breathless) from 1960 which may presents the artistic New wave the finest.

It was a black and white shot film from very low budget set within 4 weeks emphasized the distance between the New wave and big company supported movies set in theatrical,sterile studios.The film was set in various locations mainly in Paris. As Coutard said  “On the Champs Elysées we had to hide so we used a Post Office delivery van I sat in it.There was a spy-hole for the lens and that meant we could track without people seeing us.” in the documentary Cinema! Cinema! The French New Wave in 1992.

As we can see on the picture above, Coutard was filming in a wheelchair, it was enabling him to do a continous shot without cutting the energy of the scene and making it more intense. They used handheld cameras on their shoulder, it was easy to load but sometimes the sound had to be dubbed on later. Godard’s idea was using jumpcuts in continous shots. He had two intentions with that:

1, It gives the whole scene a good rhythm and makes it more interesting.

2, It allows longer distance travelled without taking forever.

A scene from Breathless where we can see continuous jump-cuts:

In my opinion even though the New wave cinema took a lot from American film-makers, it wasn’t their purpose to entirely copy them. They just wanted to create an atmosphere where they can express themselves and being separated from the old traditions, they did not mean to be revolutionary it just simply happened and we as the future generation are very grateful for that.

Reference list:

~ Godard, J. (Director). (1960). À Bout The Souffle [Motion Picture]. France.

~ Powrie, P and Reader, K (2002) French Cinema: A Students Guide. London: Arnold

~Spencer, C (Director) (1992) Cinema! Cinema! The French New Wave [Television Documentary] Britain: Wall to Wall Television Ltd. for Channel 4

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