Weekly Film Recap #10 (French New Wave)

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Last week we talked about the power of Roger Corman’s B-Movies throughout the 50s-70s and how many of today’s biggest film stars and directors got their start through Roger… Well, at the same time this was happening, a group of French film critics began one of the most important movements in the history of cinema: The French New Wave!

The French New Wave originated by film critics in the late 50’s who worked for the French magazine “Cahiers du Cinema.” They were incredibly critical with the way mainstream films were being made in France at the time. They decided to take their influence from great Hollywood directors and apply their technicalities to French films.

French New Wave films are known for their stylistic use of the camera, heavy use of jump-cuts, and for their stories about the everyday people of Paris in Post-War France. The French New Wave showed aspiring filmmakers that studios weren’t needed to make a picture and that you can walk down to your local coffee shop and make a film!

We tried to provide a wide array of directors from the movement, but unfortunately a lot of these films are practically impossible to find online (until the Criterion Channel launches, that is), so here are a few of our favorites that are fairly, easily accessible!

Bob Le Flambeur     (Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville)   While not technically a New Wave film, Melville’s  Bob Le Flambeur  is seen as an early precursor to this famous French movement. Melvilles use of the handheld camera along with a single jump-cut (which honestly might have just been done out of necessity) are two of the key indicators that the young group of Cahiers critics caught on to.  Melville is often cited as The Godfather of the New Wave movement and  Bob Le Flambeur  is a great starting point for anyone who’s interested in learning why. The film follows a hopeless gambler who can’t kick his addiction, even when he needs to the most. Melville is a true artist with the camera in terms of visual literacy, and  Bob Le Flambeur  displays this perfectly.  Since most of the Cahiers critics were spending their time watching more exciting American films, they had to have jumped to the ceiling when Melville made his debut in 1956. Without it, the French New Wave might have never gained traction…    4/5     WATCH: iTunes

Bob Le Flambeur

(Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville)

While not technically a New Wave film, Melville’s Bob Le Flambeur is seen as an early precursor to this famous French movement. Melvilles use of the handheld camera along with a single jump-cut (which honestly might have just been done out of necessity) are two of the key indicators that the young group of Cahiers critics caught on to.

Melville is often cited as The Godfather of the New Wave movement and Bob Le Flambeur is a great starting point for anyone who’s interested in learning why. The film follows a hopeless gambler who can’t kick his addiction, even when he needs to the most. Melville is a true artist with the camera in terms of visual literacy, and Bob Le Flambeur displays this perfectly.

Since most of the Cahiers critics were spending their time watching more exciting American films, they had to have jumped to the ceiling when Melville made his debut in 1956. Without it, the French New Wave might have never gained traction…

4/5

WATCH: iTunes

The 400 Blows     (Dir. François Truffaut)   François Truffaut’s full length debut came in 1959 with his semi-autobiographical film  The 400 Blows . Starring a young Jean-Pierre Lead as a 14 year old Parisian, the film encompasses all of the qualities of the French New Wave movement in one coherent and moving film.  Based on his own childhood, Truffaut uses the character of Antoine Doinel to tell a story about a boy who constantly finds himself at odds with his parents, his school, and the whole city of Paris… Even when he attempts to make things right and make up for his mistakes, he still ends up getting in trouble. His parents seem to be more annoyed with Antoine than anything else and this leads to him being sent away from his only friend Rene to a military academy.   The 400 Blows , to me, is easily one of the finest films ever made. Stylistically, Truffaut created so many staples that would be copied for years to come, like the use of the jump-cut to speed up the pace of the film or the freeze frame, which he uses iconically to end the film on the face of a desperately lost, Antoine. Thanks to the popularity of  The 400 Blows , audiences and aspiring filmmakers in the states were introduced to a whole new way of storytelling!    5/5     WATCH: iTunes

The 400 Blows

(Dir. François Truffaut)

François Truffaut’s full length debut came in 1959 with his semi-autobiographical film The 400 Blows. Starring a young Jean-Pierre Lead as a 14 year old Parisian, the film encompasses all of the qualities of the French New Wave movement in one coherent and moving film.

Based on his own childhood, Truffaut uses the character of Antoine Doinel to tell a story about a boy who constantly finds himself at odds with his parents, his school, and the whole city of Paris… Even when he attempts to make things right and make up for his mistakes, he still ends up getting in trouble. His parents seem to be more annoyed with Antoine than anything else and this leads to him being sent away from his only friend Rene to a military academy.

The 400 Blows, to me, is easily one of the finest films ever made. Stylistically, Truffaut created so many staples that would be copied for years to come, like the use of the jump-cut to speed up the pace of the film or the freeze frame, which he uses iconically to end the film on the face of a desperately lost, Antoine. Thanks to the popularity of The 400 Blows, audiences and aspiring filmmakers in the states were introduced to a whole new way of storytelling!

5/5

WATCH: iTunes

Breathless     (Dir. Jean-Luc Godard)   Perhaps the most notable figure of the French New Wave movement, Jean-Luc Godard made his debut after the success of Truffaut’s debut with  Breathless . This film is pretty much seen as the “essential” New Wave film, because it is by far the most exaggerated and intense film of the movement, in terms of style.  It’s almost impossible to actually understand what’s happening in  Breathless  or who anyone even is, but that doesn’t seem to be the purpose for Godard. Many cinephiles seem to be drawn to the possibilities the camera can bring to the world of cinema and Godard was no different. He saw how the camera can be used like a painter uses a brush, and pushed all conventions out the window in favor of extreme innovation and experimentation.   Breathless  is a necessary viewing for anyone interested in the French New Wave movement, because I’ve come to realize that it acts almost like a reference point for watching other films in the New Wave. Godard’s endless use of stylish techniques (like the jump-cuts) first feel like a big “fuck you” to the traditional way of storytelling, but then slowly begin to feel more like a guide for understanding the purpose for it.  The French New Wave created their own cinematic language and  Breathless  is their dictionary.    4/5     WATCH: YouTube, iTunes

Breathless

(Dir. Jean-Luc Godard)

Perhaps the most notable figure of the French New Wave movement, Jean-Luc Godard made his debut after the success of Truffaut’s debut with Breathless. This film is pretty much seen as the “essential” New Wave film, because it is by far the most exaggerated and intense film of the movement, in terms of style.

It’s almost impossible to actually understand what’s happening in Breathless or who anyone even is, but that doesn’t seem to be the purpose for Godard. Many cinephiles seem to be drawn to the possibilities the camera can bring to the world of cinema and Godard was no different. He saw how the camera can be used like a painter uses a brush, and pushed all conventions out the window in favor of extreme innovation and experimentation.

Breathless is a necessary viewing for anyone interested in the French New Wave movement, because I’ve come to realize that it acts almost like a reference point for watching other films in the New Wave. Godard’s endless use of stylish techniques (like the jump-cuts) first feel like a big “fuck you” to the traditional way of storytelling, but then slowly begin to feel more like a guide for understanding the purpose for it.

The French New Wave created their own cinematic language and Breathless is their dictionary.

4/5

WATCH: YouTube, iTunes

Shoot the Piano Player     (Dir. François Truffaut)   François Truffaut’s follow-up to  The 400 Blows  was an adaptation and took a more playful approach in comparison to his debut.  Shoot the Piano Player  is a fast paced and wickedly funny film about a piano player who plays away his past until his scroungy brother comes along and drags him right back into a world of hell.  Bob Dylan has claimed that this film is one of his favorites and its influence is seen everywhere in both the music and film world. Truffaut built on the techniques that he and his friends from the Cahiers established and in the process, made, once again, another classic staple of one of the most powerful film movements in history!    5/5     WATCH: iTunes

Shoot the Piano Player

(Dir. François Truffaut)

François Truffaut’s follow-up to The 400 Blows was an adaptation and took a more playful approach in comparison to his debut. Shoot the Piano Player is a fast paced and wickedly funny film about a piano player who plays away his past until his scroungy brother comes along and drags him right back into a world of hell.

Bob Dylan has claimed that this film is one of his favorites and its influence is seen everywhere in both the music and film world. Truffaut built on the techniques that he and his friends from the Cahiers established and in the process, made, once again, another classic staple of one of the most powerful film movements in history!

5/5

WATCH: iTunes

Paris Belongs to Us     (Dir. Jacques Rivette)   Jacques Rivette’s long winded tale of immigrants in Paris is one of the more literary films of the early French New Wave movement. While other directors were more interested in flaunting their stylistic ability, Rivette took the time to really dive into the characters we attach ourselves to for the next two and a half hours.   Paris Belongs to Us  was actually the first New Wave film that started production, in 1957, but didn’t end up seeing a release until 1961 after Truffaut and Godard brought international attention to the movement. The film’s title is ironic, since the film focuses on a handful of immigrants in Paris who keep falling victim to a mysterious killer.  Told from the point of view of a young theatre actress, Rivette uses the film as an in-depth analysis on Cold War paranoia and existential anxiety, leading us to think if the mystery killer might be nothing more than a figment of these people’s own imaginations…    4/5     WATCH: YouTube, iTunes

Paris Belongs to Us

(Dir. Jacques Rivette)

Jacques Rivette’s long winded tale of immigrants in Paris is one of the more literary films of the early French New Wave movement. While other directors were more interested in flaunting their stylistic ability, Rivette took the time to really dive into the characters we attach ourselves to for the next two and a half hours.

Paris Belongs to Us was actually the first New Wave film that started production, in 1957, but didn’t end up seeing a release until 1961 after Truffaut and Godard brought international attention to the movement. The film’s title is ironic, since the film focuses on a handful of immigrants in Paris who keep falling victim to a mysterious killer.

Told from the point of view of a young theatre actress, Rivette uses the film as an in-depth analysis on Cold War paranoia and existential anxiety, leading us to think if the mystery killer might be nothing more than a figment of these people’s own imaginations…

4/5

WATCH: YouTube, iTunes

Le Doulos     (Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville)   Ever since  Bob Le Flambeur , Melville has been looked at as The Godfather of the New Wave movement. While his films Donn’t necessarily fit the mold of the movement as much as his younger contemporaries like Godard, Melville continuously provided cinema with an endless source of examples of experimentation.  Best known for his crime and gangster films, Melville uses  Le Doulos  to tell the story of thieves who seem stuck in a world of double-crosses. The film opens with a question addressed to the viewer: “To die or to lie?” and this helps create an air of uncertainty with all of the character’s actions… This seems only fitting since one of the thieves (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is actually a police informant.  Melville uses the same mythology that comes from 1930’s American Gangster and Western films and melds it with his personal noir flare, to give France a true crime picture, and not just what he would refer to as a “French parody of the crime genre.”    4/5     WATCH: Prime Video, iTunes

Le Doulos

(Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville)

Ever since Bob Le Flambeur, Melville has been looked at as The Godfather of the New Wave movement. While his films Donn’t necessarily fit the mold of the movement as much as his younger contemporaries like Godard, Melville continuously provided cinema with an endless source of examples of experimentation.

Best known for his crime and gangster films, Melville uses Le Doulos to tell the story of thieves who seem stuck in a world of double-crosses. The film opens with a question addressed to the viewer: “To die or to lie?” and this helps create an air of uncertainty with all of the character’s actions… This seems only fitting since one of the thieves (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is actually a police informant.

Melville uses the same mythology that comes from 1930’s American Gangster and Western films and melds it with his personal noir flare, to give France a true crime picture, and not just what he would refer to as a “French parody of the crime genre.”

4/5

WATCH: Prime Video, iTunes

Un Histoire D’Eau     (Dir. Truffaut & Godard)   Before either Godard or Truffaut made their debut films, they worked together on  Un Histoire D’eau  (A Story of Water). This short film follows a young woman who plans on heading to Paris, but finds her entire French village under water. Through the help from a male friend, she takes a bike, bus, and more to get to Paris!   Un Histoire D’eau  doesn’t necessarily encompass all of the aspects that Truffaut and Godard would use to define their own later work, but it does show two auteurs in their earliest stages, as movie-crazed film critics creating something that counters the norms in France at the time.    3.5/5     WATCH: Youtube

Un Histoire D’Eau

(Dir. Truffaut & Godard)

Before either Godard or Truffaut made their debut films, they worked together on Un Histoire D’eau (A Story of Water). This short film follows a young woman who plans on heading to Paris, but finds her entire French village under water. Through the help from a male friend, she takes a bike, bus, and more to get to Paris!

Un Histoire D’eau doesn’t necessarily encompass all of the aspects that Truffaut and Godard would use to define their own later work, but it does show two auteurs in their earliest stages, as movie-crazed film critics creating something that counters the norms in France at the time.

3.5/5

WATCH: Youtube