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The French New Wave

The French New Wave

The New Wave of French cinema is a paradoxical phenomenon of global film culture. The works of its representatives refreshed the French cinematography that was strongly influenced by the “cinema of quality” and reformed the clumsy film production system. It provided the appearance of many talented directors, who developed the idea of the director as a full-fledged author, and revolutionized the filming techniques suggesting the new heroes to the audience. The New Wave is considered as the key event in the development of post-war cinema, a concept embodying the formula of modernist and postmodern cinema that determines film development all over the world.

It is important to identify the New Wave in terms of its identification as certain film movement and define its relationships with the film genre and film period in the history. In the context of film industry, there are certain organizations that are characterized by the definite film policy. Also, they manifest particular cinematographic idea. The organizations can be both official and non-official depending on to their structure. The New Wave is considered to be the film movement as it is represented by the set of critics and directors, who “share the same conception of film form and style” (Brodwell). Although it possesses the certain ideology, it cannot be termed as the official institution because its members were linked only by their philosophy. Its framework based on the Andrea Bazin’s ideology that implemented the idea of politique des auteures. According to the concept, director is the main source of all philosophical potential of the film. Also, he is the final institution that can verify its significant parts in accordance to his art vision. He claims that personal point of view has to be crucial in the process of creating the story and providing a certain “signature” of the author in his works. He appeals to Eric Rohmer’s words that “auteuer, and not the works, that remain” (Bazin 250). The idea proclaims the importance of filmmaking freedom and originality that is represented through the distinguishing the auteuers and directors who cannot be unified, according to Bazin. He states that the director can only be considered as the auteuer due to the “judge how well he used his material” (Bazin 255). Besides, Bazin denies exclusively entertaining role of cinematography by pointing out its aesthetic value. Thus, he stresses the advantage of Hollywood’s “sociological approach to its production” that introduces a certain culture into society, represents and shapes its values (Bazin 251). The abovementioned issues became a basis for the New Wave movement that is characterized by directors, who were realizing themselves not only as creators, but also as spectators and experts totally involved into their creation. The New Wave created the “cult of the director as an artistic icon” who became similar to writers and painters in their degree of involvement in the process of creation (Parnell).

Another philosophy that creates the framework for the discussed cinematographic movement was the ideas of Francois Truffaut and his rejection of “tradition of quality” or “cinema of quality”. In his work “A Certain Tendency in the French Cinema”, he discusses the inadmissibility of film adaptation in praise of commercial benefit as it deprives the movie of originality making it a kind of episode. He accused Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost of contempt for literature. By introducing the examples of their adaptations in comparison with the original text, he concluded that the only result is “little enough invention for a great deal of betrayal” (Truffaut 228). In his article, Truffault proclaims the issue that became the main problem representatives of the New Wave were overcoming. Writing scripts for a long time became for Aurenche, Bost, and a dozen other successful screenwriters a low hack that is profitable not only for writers, but also the producers and directors throughout the system, which proudly called itself the French cinema of the guaranteed quality. Therefore, the main idea he proclaims became the aim of The New Wave auteuers. The goal was to leave the frameworks of the realism stories that “destroy it at the moment of finally grabbing it” as they place the hero into the limits of artificial phrases and formulas (Truffaut 232).

The two works became the basis of the New Wave and helped the directors with same point of view to grow into the definite movement. Loosely conducted scenarios and free editing style became the major principles of filmmakers that helped to maintain their creativity as the auteuers (Nowell-Smith 577). The period in the French filmmaking history before the New Wave was characterized by the simple plagiarizing of the Hollywood’s pictures or creating something similar with the same peculiarities (Truffaut 225). Thus, the main idea of the movement was to reject “formulaic” and “studio-bound” cinematography (Nowell-Smith 577).

Genre plays an important role in expressing personal vision of directors (Nowell-Smith 580). It was used from the point of view of postmodernist theory, which includes interacting the traditional features of the genre. The approach makes the characters take actions deviating from the prescribed code of the genre. The method was used by F. Traffuat in the film “La Sirène du Mississipi” (1968). Godard has chosen another method and decided to maintain the basic functions of the characters in the most representative genres of the American cinema, but to substitute character. In the “black” movie or musical, hero becomes the author’s alter ego, the lyrical hero of the New Wave. Without changing, he conducts the function and remains stable, freely moving from one genre to another. A striking example for the spectrum of citation is “Pierrot le fou” by Godard. Despite the presence of the “black” genre in the film, it is impossible to reconstruct police intrigue. The questions asked by the audience remained unanswered. Thus, Godard developed some features of the original “black” films that are prone to vague intrigue with a dubious clue, an atmosphere reminiscent of a dream, and absurd dialogue. There is no director of the New Wave that did not apply the genre.

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There are several explanations for the phenomenon. Godard’s private detective character embodied maximum freedom for the entertainment. On the other hand, Truffaut’s imaginary “black” film made it possible to integrate supposed irresponsibility in the author’s reflections. In addition to the “black” genre, Godard and Truffaut quoted American comedy. However, in F. Truffout’s movie “Shoot the Pianist”, the integration of the comedy elements resulted in the contradiction to the viewers’ stereotypes. The film ended on a tragic note: comic gangsters, who cannot even shoot, randomly kill the heroin. In “Pierrot le fou”, a musical genre is cited. The transition from one quotation to another is marked by the characters. “Pierrot le fou” is the author’s film that reflects the genre in a broad socio-cultural context. The aforementioned examples represent the peculiarities of using genre forms in the New Wave that became the device of expressing the author’s originality in the picture.

Besides the genre experiments, Jean-Luc Godard is considered to be the brightest representative of the New Wave. He felt that the film should have the beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in the same order (Sterritt 20). The approach fully reflected the rebellious spirit of the New Wave in the film “Breathless” (1959), which violates all conceivable rules of the plot construction. He borrowed Themes and styles from Hollywood movies such as “B” and “black” films. However, towards the end of the 1960s, Godard became less attentive to subjects. The director experimented more, giving the game tapes political overtones. He has developed a completely new cinematic language. His films, such as “Weekend” (1967), were filled with interviews, slogans, titles, and speeches right in front of the camera, as well as the shots depicting cameramen shooting the film (Sterritt 92). Eventually, Godard became one of the first major filmmakers to experiment with video technology. Godard’s radical leftist political point of view had a significant impact on his aesthetic position. Familiarity with the works of Marx and influence of Bertolt Brecht’s ideas defined Godard’s refusal from the aesthetics of realism and his attraction to the art. The director was breaking the traditions and conventions of bourgeois cinema, which would turn into a form of preparation for revolution (Sterritt 64). An admirer of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Godard declares abandonment of the traditional plot of empathy with the characters. His bold installation of construction should make the viewer think and compare the phenomenon of destroying the aesthetic unity of space and time. Convinced that his film is able to accelerate the revolution in the minds of young people, Godard turned his pictures into a kind of parable, destroying the old patterns of thinking.

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The overall contribution of the French New Wave in the history of cinema is considered controversial by the representatives of different artists’ generations. Youth supported rebellious spirit and avant-garde breakthrough novice. However, it is indisputable that the New French Wave contributed a lot of previously unknown human types, significantly updated the gallery of characters of French cinema, changed the idea of ​​beauty, and altered movie versions of the modern socio-physical appearance of the actor. A classic example was the Jean-P. Belmondo, whose appearance on the screen at first was a challenge to the canons of cinematic hero. Theoretical and practical activities of the French New Wave pioneers laid the foundation for the theory of cinema called Auteur that emerged in the 70s. According to the theory, the director must be the author of the film and participate in all stages of production in order to develop the personal style. Thus, the films should be more individual. It should not be evaluated separately, but rather in the light of all the work directed.

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The New Wave has played a crucial role in the development of modern film language and had the significant impact on world cinema. Familiarity with the films of Godard and his colleagues appeared to be a powerful factor in the formation of the young cinema in Germany, Sweden, Italy, England, India, Japan, Australia and Latin America in 60s. In particular, the New Wave influenced the next generation of American independent filmmakers of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which included the so-called New Hollywood: Coppola, De Palma, Polanski, Scorsese. In Britain, Free Cinema movement appeared in 1950 and represented such directors as Lindsey Anderson, Carmen Reisz with a satirical representation of working class. Moreover, in Europe, New Wave inspired the movements in Poland (R. Polanski, J. Skolimowski) and Czechoslovakia (M. Forman, V. Chytilova , I. Passer) that introduced of real life image on the screen. Marco Belloccio and Bernardo Bertulocchi were the followers of the New Wave as well; Japan saw Nagisa Oshima and Brazil discovered Glauber Rocha (Hitchman). Without a doubt, there were some differences in their approaches; however, they possessed the same spirit of rebellion and desire to broaden the existing limits in cinematography.

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French Nouvelle Vague, or the New Wave is considered one of the most influential movements in the history of cinema. Among the most significant filmmakers were F. Truffaut, A. Bazin and Jean-Luc Godard, who is the father of the New Wave. It was a movement against the traditional French cinema, its frames and superficiality. The New Wave influenced the entire world cinema, contributing the sense of freedom and originality into the industry.