An Introduction to the French New Wave – Un Certain Regard
(First of all, and even if this column is precisely here to show that there is more to cinema than Hollywood, I still need to congratulate Leonardo DiCaprio for finally winning his well-deserved Oscar this week ! As some media stated it though, the internet has indeed lost a great meme; let’s face it, all the gifs showing him running after the iconic golden statue was quite funny. Be sure to check out Leo’s speech at the ceremony, in favour of the environment – absolutely brilliant !)
If there is a movement that profoundly influenced the techniques and aesthetics of European cinema for quite a while in the mid-20th century, it has to be the French New Wave. Basically, a group of young film directors decided they had had enough of conventions in cinema, be it narrative or technical ones, and shaped in the sixties a new approach to this art. Their anticonformism led them to bring a fresher and different view on how to tell a story through a screen, and most importantly allowed what we know as art-house cinema to develop in the country, as the latter had been stuck for many years in a sort of common and agreed “way” of making films. Yes, sadly we French tend to be like that: we sometimes are so proud of our culture, intellectuals and way of thinking that things already established and decreed as the norm have no chance to change one day; as it was with cinema, it is still the case today with the way we write essays for instance, or dissertations, which is seen as the-most-perfect-way-to-do-it in the entire world, even if this can largely be debated. But I digress.
So this French obstinacy to establish rules of excellence was without taking into account this new generation who would change the face of French cinema for ever: François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette to name but a few. The Nouvelle Vague sought to make cinema closer to reality, and getting away from nice dialogues and perfect conventional shots. To be more precise, they usually made their films with very low budgets, without necessarily having prior experience in filmmaking, and above all favouring light cameras allowing them to do hand-held shooting, outside and not in studio anymore so in real and natural settings, with unknown actors, simple dialogues and stories, and generally speaking with less rules. Here is a very brief introduction to the French New Wave, if you want to know more about it, you can check this article (most of the films are from the New Wave movement, and they are the most emblematic – A Bout de Souffle by Jean-Luc Godard perhaps being THE most emblematic!).
Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night at Maud’s, Eric Rohmer, 1969): Although 1969 is quite “late” for the New Wave as the latter lasted for a very short period and started losing its breath around the mid-sixties, the aesthetics and values tackled in the film are definitely part of this influential movement. Jean-Louis, a good Catholic bumps into his old friend Vidal who introduces him to Maud, a woman recently divorced and slightly libertine – pretty much his complete opposite. The three protagonists start talking about deep subjects such as love, morality, philosophy or religion and Jean-Louis, as the tittle suggests it, sleeps at Maud’s for a night, and will have to deal with his conscience regarding his views on fidelity and marriage.
Paris nous appartient (Paris Belongs to Us, Jacques Rivette, 1961): Jacques Rivette actually died a little more than a month ago in Paris, and this is also a sort of tribute to him. Paris Belongs to Us is perhaps his most famous and emblematic film, as well as his first full-length film made and one of the first experimentation of the New Wave. Set in Paris (obviously), the film tells the adventures of a group of young people trying to set up a play of Shakespeare but who don’t quite manage to do so because of an American guy and a girl perturbing the girl because she flirts with one of the boys.
Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, François Truffaut, 1962): This film started with François Truffaut finding a book randomly in one of the iconic second-hand booksellers along the Seine, and he liked the plot so much that he asked the writer if he could adapt his book into film. Chance sometimes makes for great events ! The film is about a love triangle in which two friends, Jules and Jim, meet a girl who is going to fall in love with one of them and marry him. This fascinating drama (apparently Stephen Hawking’s favourite film ever !) is also an icon of this French cinematic movement.