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Copy of Copy of French New Wave Cinema

The Dummies guide to French New Wave

Ray Mendes

on 22 January 2017

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Transcript of Copy of Copy of French New Wave Cinema

French New Wave Cinema
(La Nouvelle Vague)
Mr Mendes' Dummies Guide.
The French New Wave (or Le Nouvelle Vague) made its first splashes as a movement filled with youthful exuberance, a scathing hatred of pure escapist entertainment and a brisk reinvigoration of the filmmaking process.
FNW was at its peak 1958 and 1964, but continued to ripple on afterward, with many of the tendencies and styles introduced by the movement still in practice today.
In the 50s, a collective of intellectual French film critics, led by André Bazin and Jacques Donial-Valcroze, formed the groundbreaking journal of film criticism
Cahiers du Cinema
(literally 'Notebooks on Cinema') . The journal was developed by the first generation to study film academically.

In 1950s, flood of US films in French market. They saw the Hollywood system as one which robbed the individual of their freedom. It was a money making machine above all else, art mass produced with no originality. Except Welles, Hitchcock, Chaplin, Ford and Hawks.

So, they developed their own style. It was one which denied the viewer a chance to suspend disbelief.
FNW was a protest
, as well as a style. It is the anti-Hollywood style of film.
Three guiding principles:

1) A rejection of classical montage and continuity styles of filmmaking (favoured by studios up to that time) in favour of: documentary-style mise-en-scene (favoring the reality of what is filmed over manipulation via editing), the long take; disrupted timelines; deep composition; breaking line of action;

2) A conviction that the best films are a personal artistic expression and should bear a stamp of personal authorship, much as great works of literature bear the stamp of the writer. This latter tenet would be dubbed by American film critic Andrew Sarris the "auteur (author) theory." And,

3) The cinema should mix documentary (realism) and film, always making its manufactured presence known through deliberate editing, sudden movements and breaking with established conventions. And it should be made cheaply.
Many of the French New Wave's conventions sprang not from ideology but necessity. They had no money. Film was expensive.

They often improvised with what schedules and materials they could afford. Out of all this came a group of conventions that were consistently used in the majority of French New Wave films.

Came from two key French experiences: 1) France was considered Europe's heart of art and philosophy and its theorists/directors were the first film-educated generation of filmmakers in history; and

2) France's confidence as a powerful nation was shattered by German occupation, which had led to a resurgence of a demand for 'the real', a broken reality.

Jump cuts: a non-realistic edit, usually a section of a continuous shot that is removed unexpectedly, illogically, which disrupts the smooth flow of time.
Shooting on location
Natural lighting, shadows, lack of three-point lighting
Improvised dialogue and plot
Direct sound recording
Long takes, tracking and dolly shots
Characters rarely achieve their goal
The film should develop a character/idea - their mind is most important
The denouement should not wrap up the narrative, but leave a mystery
Oftentimes main character is arrogant, conceited and misunderstood. Easily manipulated, will cheat to get what she/he wants.
Many of these conventions are commonplace today, but in late 50s and early 60s was all very groundbreaking. Jump cuts were used as much to cover mistakes as they were an artistic convention. The most commercially successful of the directors was Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows).

Jean-Luc Godard certainly appreciated the dislocating feel of jump cuts, but: here was a film critic-turned-first-time director who was using inexperienced actors and crew, shooting on a shoestring budget. Today when jump cuts are used they even feel pretentious... unless it's an action film or music video.

Godard was the most prolific of all the major figures of this movement; he produced roughly two films a year in the 1960s, and amazingly, many of them still hold up today. In Le Petit Soldat and Pierrot le Fou in particular, Godard gave us his protoypical male characters, men who were full of self-doubt.
Breathless and Bande A Part
The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) - Francois Truffaut

Released in 1959, winner of Cannes Film Festival award for Best Director. Anti-climactic early New Wave film about a boy with a troubled past who runs away from home.

He loves art, but his art is not validated by his teacher, who frequently criticises him.

He is irreverent, but kind-hearted.

After stealing his father's type-writer, his father hands him over to the police, who put him in prison.

The film is inspired by Truffaut's essay "Une Certaine tendance du cinéma français" (A certain tendency in French film) and is loosely based on his life.

Unlike Godard, he was not really interested in experimentation for its own sake and was not keen on political commentary. What appealed to him was creating strong narratives out of the material of his own life.

The film lacks sentiment, and the boy never receives justice. It is poetic and playful, but filmed in unclean, real-life locations. He rejected French 'cinema of quality.' The film explores the existential nature of existence. He hated the naivity which came with the experience of cinema.

The film roughly mirrors Truffaut's life.

Inspired by: Hitchcock, Lang, Hawkes, Eisenstein & Welles.

Inspired: Scorsese, Tarantino, Polanski, Coppola, the Coen brothers, modern action genres

Non-professional actors
Film requires intelligence. Not everything is designed to make sense (as in cause and effect), but reflect a character's state. Things can quickly change.
Breaking the line of action/ 30/180 degree rule.
Character dialogue does not always align.
Antihero. Love to hate them. Often self-absorbed, not aware of world around.
Often draws on gangster films - pays homage.
Text or deliberate breaking of fourth wall.

Fairy Tale...
How would Rumpelstiltskin read if he were the failed anti-hero of a French New Wave film?

An outsider with a broken moral compass who just wanted someone to love him, but she never loved him back...

What if he once said he'd do anything for her, and she mentioned once she had an enemy...

Cue funky jazz track... set in the 1960s...

A man with a gun, not afraid to take hostages or kill to get his way, but still sees himself as some kind of hero of his own personal gangster film.
Influence and Legacy
Hays Code from 1930 - late 1950s. Creativity.

End of vertical integration, foreign films could be not subject to Code.

During height of studio system, stars were lofty figures & films were made almost exclusively on set in isolated studios.

Studio system broken down, directors and new ideas flourished. Came at time when Hollywood in decline.

FNW made its way both academically/artistically across US. AMERICAN NEW WAVE.

Films with unorthodox editing (breaking rules of Hollywood narrative) included:
Easy Rider’s use of editing to foreshadow the climax of the movie, as well as subtler uses, such as editing to reflect the feeling of frustration in Bonnie and Clyde.

Rise of anti-establishment political themes, the use of rock music, and sexual freedom deemed "counter-cultural" by the studios. Taxi Driver is a classic example.
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