Monday, March 5, 2012

The French New Wave Cinema

There is currently a display in the Art, Music and Recreation featuring images and writings about French New Wave Cinema.

French New Wave is considered by serious film devotees to be one of the most exciting and influential of film movements. Its origin can be traced back to an important essay penned by Andre Bazin in 1945: “The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” His belief that films should present a director's personal vision has greatly influenced the auteur theory according to which the director is viewed as the major creative force in a motion picture. It holds that the director, who oversees all audio and visual elements of the motion picture, is more to be considered the “author” of the movie than is the writer of the screenplay. In other words, such fundamental visual elements as camera placement, blocking, lighting, and scene length, rather than plot line, convey the message of the film. Soon after Alexandre Astruc would develop the idea of camera-stylo which suggests that camera is like a pen in the hands of the director.

1951 Bazin founded Cahiers du Cinema, an influential film magazine, where these ideas were further developed. The magazine would provide an intellectual platform to young cinephiles who would critique the stagnant state of French cinema by referring it to as Le cinema du papa. By consensus the creative highpoint of this movement falls between 1958 - 1962. François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette, all critics at the Cahiers, have been acknowledged as the heart of the movement, and are known as the Young Turks of the New Wave. Loosely speaking, they advocated objective continuity and mise en scène over experiments in editing and visual effects. In general, they also showed preference for Italian neo-realism over Hollywood's artificial reality, its studio system and big budgets. Though Chabrol was the first one to make a professional breakthrough with Le Beau Serg in 1958 and Les Cousins in 1959, it was Truffaut's 400 Blows that announced the arrival of the wave along with Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour, both stealing awards at Cannes. This event was followed by another major event in the history of the wave: the arrival of Godard's Breathless in 1960 that enchanted the movie lovers everywhere.

Another group of directors from across the Seine were more ambiguously connected to the Wave. Known as the Left Bank Group, its most important directors included Chris Marker, Agnes Varda, and Alain Resnais. Yet there are those who claim that it was Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman and the way Bridget Bardot's sexuality exploded on the cinema screen that made the wave possible. Bardot made the wave happen. Nevertheless it is Jeanne Moreau's cinematic persona that has become synonymous with the French New Wave. And this wouldn’t have been possible without Louis Malle’s iconic Les Amants in 1959.

Related reading

Cahiers du cinéma, edited by Jim Hillier (Harvard University Press, 1985-)

Cahiers du cinéma. Table of contents (AMS Press, 1971).

French New Wave by Jean Douchet; in collaboration with Caedric Anger; translated by Robert Bonnon (D.A.P. in association with Editions Hazan / Cinematheque Française, 1998).

What is Cinema? Essays
, selected and translated by Hugh Gray (University of California Press, 1971) [vol. 2]

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