French New Wave - Cinema's finest moment?
Like many people, if anyone asks me what my favourite films are I always struggle to answer. However, if someone were to ask me what my favourite period of cinema's extensive history is, I would say the French New Wave. So, what exactly is French New Wave cinema?
Unsurprisingly, as the name suggests, this movement was pioneered by French filmmakers, mostly in Paris. By shooting their films on their own front-door, inexperienced filmmakers were able to save money and make their films on tiny budgets! Their films broke away from typical cinematic conventions, containing none of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. They often used unknown actors, filmed in the streets and used the most basic, hand-held equipment. Many of the filmmakers worked together, paying homage to each other and to their favourite filmmakers and movies. Now, contemporary filmmakers are paying homage to them! Just think, various movies, such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 film Amélie, might never have come into existence if it hadn't been for the New Wave!
New Wave films are stylish but simple and packed with references to real people, authors, artists and other filmmakers. Beware though, there are quite a few films from this movement that can be quite sad or quite dense with politics. However, there are also many that are fun and entertaining! Here are a few examples of great pieces of New Wave cinema:
- À bout de soufflé (Breathless, 1960) is a humorous, bizarre take on the popular gangster genre. It follows a crook, Michel, as he runs around Paris with his American girlfriend, hiding from the police. Many scenes were shot on location in the Paris streets, including the iconic Champs d'Elysées, and sometimes feature puzzled spectators in the background, looking at the camera and actors, unaware a movie was being shot!
- Bande à part (The Outsiders, 1964) is my favourite film from this era. It follows a pair of crooks who enlist the help of a shy, quirky, classmate to help them rob a house. The best thing about this film is how the filmmaker and the characters seem to get distracted and do irrelevant but funny things, such as dance and have a race through the Musée de Louvre!
- Les 400 coups (The 400 Blows, 1959) is a bittersweet story about a young boy, Antoine, who is constantly getting into trouble. It is based on the filmmaker, Francois Truffaut's, own childhood and was his first feature film, winning him the Best Director award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival.