What was the French New Wave Cinema?

The French New Wave was a film movement, of sorts, that cam e to world wide attention in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although the  styles and film making efforts of its most famous members, such as Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, they were unified in their concept of the purpose of cinema.

Jean-Luc Godard
Pierrot le fou directed by Jean-Luc Godard

The New Wave gravitated to each other naturally. Drawn together by more than just philosophical mutual admiration of Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, John Ford and other motifs they deemed fashionable from in the golden Hollywood. They discovered people, like Andre Bazin, that had voices, to communicate to the masses, or as many who were listening or reading. It was a much more simple time then. Not like today. To communicate and get your message to the necessary people, who in turn will help you in your quest, your revolution.


Everything that the .New Wave crew held dear so did Andre Bazin and Alexandre Austrc. Both were noted film critics and both felt very strongly how film should be handled. The variances of opinion was healthy in Bazin’s view:

Whatever our differences of opinion about films or directors, our common likes and dislikes are numerous enough and strong enough to bind us together; and although I do not see the role of the auteur in cinema in the same way as Francois Truffaut or Rohmer for example, it does not stop me believing to a certain extent in the concept of the auteur and very often sharing their opinions, although not always their passionate loves. I fall in with them more reluctantly in the case of their hostile reactions; often they are fiercely critical of films I find defensible – and I do so precisely because I find that the work transcends the director (they dispute this phenomenon, which they consider to be a critical contradiction). In other words, almost our only difference concerns the relationship between the work and its creator.


But what were they after? What was the old guard  not doing that Truffaut, Godard, Charbrol felt  betrayed the holy truth of cinema?  In an article for The Guardian, Adam Thirlwell noted:

 Truffaut announced their central theme: the refusal of adulthood as a world of tyranny and corruption. Their theme was youth. But youth is elusive. Youth is complicated. At the start of Godard’s later film Masculin féminin (1966) – the subject of which he described as “the idea of youth” –

Of course, their agenda was much more simple. Now that they were in a position to  make films, the doctrine was given up for dead. A clever ruse to brush the establishment  from their perch so they could ascend in their stead. Technology became more and more available and affordable helped propel the upstarts in their quest to purify the cinema world of its excesses.


And they added a new color for the future generations of film directors, screenwriters, cameramen and so on. However, in his article, Thrilwell noted:

Like every movement, the Nouvelle Vague didn’t really exist. All those films date from three years, from 1959 to 1962, when Truffaut made Les quatre cents coups, Tirez sur le pianiste and Jules et Jim, Chabrol directed Les cousins, Rivette finally showed Paris nous appartient, and Godard made À bout de souffle, Une femme est une femme and Vivre sa vie. Even then, by 1962, it was obvious how different these kids were.

However brief those three years may have been, the French New Wave continues to inspire interests in film, film history, and the filmmakers themselves.