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French New Wave

French New Wave The French New Wave was a movement that lasted between 1959 to 1964. It all started with the Cinematheque Francois, an underground organization that would regularly show older films from around the world. This beget the cine-club, and by the 1954 there were 100,000 members in 200 clubs. From these clubs several magazines were created, the most famous of these were LEcran Francois, La Revue du Cinema, Postif, and the world known Cahiers du Cinema. One of the two most influential people during this time was Alexandre Astruc who declared that, the cinema is becoming a means of expression like the other arts before it, especially painting and the novel.

It is no longer a spectacle, a diversion equivalent to the old boulevard is becoming, little by little, a visual language, i.e. a medium in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, be they abstract or whatever, or in which he can communicate his obsessions as accurately as he can today in essay or novel. What Astruc was saying , was that the cinema was now as personal as paintings and literature, instead of just a show. The second and most influential of the two was Andr Bazin, who like Astruc believed that the cinema was equal to the novel. Bazin believed in the long take and the deep focus over the Soviet Montage, composition in depth is seen as egalitarian in the sense that everything in the frame exists with equal clarity, thereby giving the spectator a choice: our eyes are free to roam from foreground to background and around. It is closer to the way we perceive in off screen life, and it reintroduces ambiguity into the structure of the image.

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Bazin also championed the Italian Neorealism movement, for its revolutionary humanism, and its on location shooting, improvisational style, use of non actors, and for its long takes. In 1950s Andr Bazin founded Cahier du Cinema, a magazine that championed the director as Films true author. At Cahier du Cinema, Bazin further developed the theory of director as author of his film, the Auteur. Bazin charted the main areas of film studies as we know them, effectively creating the discipline: authorship, which led Bazins disciples to develop the politique des auteurs. Cahier du Cinema brought together the leading French critics/film enthusiasts of the time- Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette..

These critics began devouring older movies, mostly silent films like, German Expressionism, Italian Neorealism, thirties French films and most particularly American studio films that were banned during Nazi occupation. Here they learned to love directors like Howard Hawks and John Ford, the American masters who were virtually ignored in this country until the French critics made a case for their artistry. These critics also made the world aware of Genre. The examples of genres are the Western films, Gangster films, Musicals, and Film Noir. But the most important observation was the director as Auteur.

They championed the director as the auteur, the creator of a personal vision of the world which progresses from film to film. These critics began seeing style and same thematic consistencies in certain film directors, and held them in the highest light. One of the first scandals in this wave of thought was an article written by Francois Truffaut in 1954, A Certain Tendency in the French Cinema. In his essay he criticized the French postwar films that were adopted from novels and were heavily dependent upon plot and dialogue. Truffaut also attacked Jean Delannoy and Rene Clement as they were stopping the growth of film as art.

The final influence on the French New Wave came in 1958. The Documentary filmmakers began using lighter and more mobile equipment, using smaller crews, and began rejecting structure in their scripts. Cinema Verite was the name applied, meaning Cinema truth. Then in 1959, France called for a new wave and it got it. The same year, twenty-four French directors made their first feature films, followed in 1960 by forty-three more features. All this was possible to accomplish with the advent of the lightweight film equipment and handheld action ruled the screen.

The first of these French New Wave films was Jean-Luc Godards A Bout de Souffl (Breathless). Breathless tells the story of a handsome young criminal (Belmondo), who fancies himself to be a hip gangster, is on the run from police because he stole a car and killed a motorcycle cop who was chasing him for speeding. He finds refuge in the arms of a beautiful young American newspaper salesgirl (Seberg), who steals his heart and eventually turns him into the police. The movie set the tone for the French New Wave by telling simple story and made it into a convention challenging style with many references to past movies. In addition to telling a simple love story, it can also be seen as an essay about film making. The movie incorporated what were to become new wave techniques, jump cuts, handheld cameras, poor lighting, and a sense of improvisation.

These techniques were reflecting their interest in breaking Hollywood conventions, and at the same time paying homage to what was good in Hollywood cinema. Soon after, Francois Truffaut released Les Quatre Cent Coups (The 400 Blows), another landmark in the French New Wave. The film tells a story of the troubled 14 year old boy and his misadventures in Paris, who deals with his uncaring parents, and finally the law. The 400 Blows bears all the marks of Truffaut as auteur, his obsessions with childhood, education, and the psychology of his characters. Truffaut would visit this character in three more of his movies and a short film. (Antoine et Colette, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, Love on the Run.) The films of the French New Wave tended to have loosely constructed scenarios, with many unpredictable elements and sudden shifts in tone, often giving the audience the impression that anything might happen next. They were also distinctive for having open endings, with situations being left unresolved, suggesting the audience to use their imagination. The acting was also a departure from what had gone before.

The actors were encouraged to improvise their lines, or talk over each others lines as would happen in real life. The characters in French New Wave films are often young anti-heroes and loners, who behave spontaneously, often act immorally and are frequently seen as anti authoritarians. The five directors, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette and Rohmer made thirty-two films between 1959 and 1966. The films by these directors represented a radical departure from traditional cinema, and were aimed towards a young intellectual audience. Most of these directors achieved critical and financial success, gaining audience both in France and abroad.

The directors diverged in style and developed their own distinct cinematic voices. Francois Truffaut incorporated more traditional elements in his films, while Jean-Luc Godard became increasingly political and radical in his film making during the 60s. After 1964, the experimental elements of the French New Wave were already starting to influence and assimilate into mainstream cinema. The influence of the French New Wave stretched across all of Europe. Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Yugoslavia, the U.S. soon followed by creating film schools.

To this day The French New Wave still influences movie-makers who play up the antihero, and experiment with and go against conventional movie making. Most of these films are now part of the independent scene, a movement not unlike the French New Wave.


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