A Beginner's Guide to Nouvelle Vague

The revolution in filmmaking that occurred in France at the end of the 1950s altered irrevocably the way films were made and understood. With filmmakers' opportunities aided by a political regime keen to promote home-grown product, a number of critics connected with the film magazine Cahiers du cinéma – François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette – who rejected the inflated, sterile, 'quality' films of postwar France ('le cinema du papa' wrote Truffaut), had the opportunity to put their theories and techniques into practice.

With their films marked by youthful exuberance, improvisation and a willingness to experiment and break established rules (often because of budgetary limitations), they took cinema out of the studios and into the streets – something greatly aided by new lightweight equipment and faster film stock. (Cameraman Raoul Coutard, who lensed a number of the classic new wave films, had a background in photojournalism that suited this new style of shooting on location with natural lighting.) Other stylistic features of new wave films included jump cuts, illogical editing, direct sound recording and long takes.

Chabrol's Le Beau Serge (1958) is generally credited as the first New Wave feature. Then, with Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Godard's À bout de souffle providing unexpected international successes, the nouvelle vague flourished. Between 1958-62, nearly one hundred directors were given a chance at a first feature and a number of established directors were hauled along with the impetus.

Arguing about who was a new wave director and what constitues a new wave film to make a canonical list is a largely fruitless exercise. The term was used fairly indiscrimately at the time (especially if you had a film to sell), and there are plenty of arguments for inclusion and exclusion of films and directors on stylistic and political grounds. Likewise, when the nouvelle vague ended is debated. Its golden age was 1958-64, but in 1967, Truffaut declared that he was proud of having been and continuing to be part of it.

In its dig at ‘certain tendencies’ in the cinema today (echoing the title of Truffaut's important article announcing ‘auteur theory’ in Cahiers du cinéma in 1954, the Dogme 95 manifesto of 1995 stated, “the new wave proved to be a ripple that washed ashore and turned to muck…the anti-bourgeois cinema itself became bourgeois.” Nevertheless, its playful, experimental vitality continues to excite, inspire and entertain today. It is a seminal period of film to which filmmakers still turn for inspiration.

Highlights

Jean-Luc Godard, 1959

£16.99

Breathless (50th Anniversary)

Godard's groundbreaking Breathless sees a dash of flair and subversive Gallic ins...

DVD

François Truffaut, 1959

£11.99

Recommended Star

The 400 Blows

One of the defining films of the French New Wave, The 400 Blows - Francois Truffaut's semi-autobi...

DVD

Film Listing

Jean-Luc Godard, 1964

£16.99

Bande à Part

Belonging to that joyous efflorescence which was early Nouvelle Vague, Bande à Part gave cinema b...

DVD

Jacques Demy, 1964

£15.99

Recommended Star

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (50th Anniversary Edition)

Described by its director Jacques Demy as 'a film i...

DVD

Alain Resnais, 1961

£19.99

Last Year in Marienbad (Studio Canal Collection)

Perhaps the epitome of the postwar European art film, Resnais toys with time and ...

Blu-ray

Jacques Rivette, 1960

£16.99

Paris Nous Appartient

Anne, an innocent student, is sucked into a mystery involving an American political refugee (a vi...

DVD

Jean-Luc Godard, 1959

£16.99

Breathless (50th Anniversary)

Godard's groundbreaking Breathless sees a dash of flair and subversive Gallic ins...

DVD

Claude Chabrol, 1968-91

£36.99

The Claude Chabrol Collection: Volume 1

A collection of eight films from one of the leading lights of the nouvelle vague,...

DVD

Alain Resnais, 1961

£10.99

Recommended Star

Last Year in Marienbad

Perhaps the epitome of the postwar European art film, Resnais toys with time and ...

DVD

François Truffaut, 1962

£12.99

Recommended Star

Jules & Jim

Francois Truffaut's classic tale of a love triangle, Jules et Jim takes place over 20 years, both...

DVD

François Truffaut, 1960

£12.99

Recommended Star

Shoot the Pianist

Truffaut's immaculately-made second film, Shoot the Pianist is a homage to the Hollywood gangster...

DVD

Jacques Demy, 1964

£16.49

Recommended Star

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (50th Anniversary Edition)

Described by its director Jacques Demy as 'a film i...

Blu-ray

François Truffaut, 1959

£11.99

Recommended Star

The 400 Blows

One of the defining films of the French New Wave, The 400 Blows - Francois Truffaut's semi-autobi...

DVD

François Truffaut, 1959

£13.99

Recommended Star

The 400 Blows

One of the defining films of the French New Wave, The 400 Blows - Francois Truffaut's semi-autobi...

Blu-ray

François Truffaut, 1960

£15.99

Recommended Star

Shoot the Pianist

Truffaut's immaculately-made second film, Shoot the Pianist is a homage to the Hollywood gangster...

Blu-ray

François Truffaut, 1968

£11.99

Recommended Star

Stolen Kisses

The third films in Truffaut's Antoine Doinel cycle (after The 400 Blows and the short film Antoin...

DVD

Alain Resnais, 1959

£13.99

Recommended Star

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Hiroshima Mon Amour is a powerful and moving love story set in Hiroshima in the late 1950s where ...

DVD

François Truffaut, 1962

£15.99

Recommended Star

Jules & Jim

Francois Truffaut's classic tale of a love triangle, Jules et Jim takes place over 20 years, both...

Blu-ray

François Truffaut, 1964

£11.99

Recommended Star

The Soft Skin

Described by Truffaut as a tale of 'a truly modern love; it takes place in planes, elevators and ...

DVD

Jean-Pierre Melville, 1955

£12.99

Recommended Star

Bob Le Flambeur

Superb Gallic film noir from the pre-eminent Americanophile amongst French directors. An elegantl...

DVD