Guide to the Directors of the French New Wave: Francois Truffaut

The French New Wave brought the director to  the forefront. For the members of the New Wave, Truffaut, Godard and company, the director was the true star of the show. The true artist among these stars holds the most prestige possible, at least as far as film geeks are concerned. This person, who crafts a film with the same dominance he crafts his signature, is bestowed the honorific title of auteur.

So, let’s shine a light on these men, the directors who led the revolution of cinema in France –

Francois Truffaut

Francois Truffaut
Francois Truffaut directing Photo Studio

For all his talk and dogmatic bluster, Francois Truffaut was perhaps the biggest commercial director of the New Wave. Rohmer was the poet. Godard, the idiosyncratic ideologue. Claude Chabrol could and would give Truffaut a run for the commercial. of the French New Wave.  Chabrol’s ability to structure a film was far above the others but he was forged in the Alfred Hitchcock, Henri-Georges Clouzot mold. As with Clouzot and Hitchcock, Chabrol’s  directing style  was cold and detached, almost impersonal. A huge Alfred Hitchcock disciple, Chabrol was more than content to stay in his little Hitchcock niche. That’s where his bread was buttered.


When we get down to it, Truffaut film legacy lies in the hands of one young boy. We first meet him in the director’s debut film The 400 BlowsThe little boy is the focus of the film and a several other follow ups of Truffaut’s. This one person isn’t a solitary figure but four, all sharing a connection. The protagonist of  the  film ‘s Antoine Doinel. He is Truffaut’s younger self as portrait by actor  Jean-Pierre Leaud. 


The Antoine Doinel character would appear in several of Francois Truffaut films, which were some of the most successful in his career. Leaud would play the role of Doinel in each film. The character would have no ending because its creator Francois Truffaut would pass away October 4, 1984 of a brain tumor at the age of 52. The other Truffaut, the one who came to life on the screen, as documented by actor Jean-Pierre Leaud, he still has his path before him. Jean-Pierre Leaud helped to create Antoine Doinel.  Francois Truffaut was Antoine Doinel.

If we were to make a Beatles comparison to fellow director Jean-Luc Godard, Truffaut would be the McCartney to Godard’s Lennon. His films  were simple, whereas Godard’s were complex, esoteric and confrontational. Truffaut became the face of the New Wave while Godard became more and more radical.  Truffaut would direct other mainstream classic films whereas Godard mainly danced around the cult classic genre with exercises in abstract thought and theory that, in the end, only made sense to Godard himself.

Truffaut would a wide variety of films in his career. According to the Wikipedia –

“His goal was to make 30 films and then retire to write books for his remaining days. He was five films short of his personal goal.”

Truffaut’s film output over the nearly 30 years of work was second to  no one. Truffaut’s first five features were –

  1. The 400 Blows
  2. Shoot the Piano Player
  3. Jules and Jim
  4. The Soft Skin
  5. Fahrenheit 451