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July 25, 2008

The beginning: The French New Wave Movement

TruffautIn January of 1954 François Truffaut publishes his essay "Une Certaine Tendance of Cinema Francaise" in Cahiers du Cinema in which he stated that the director was the "author" of his work; that great directors such as Renoir, or Hitchcock, have distinct styles and themes that permeate all of their films.This article originate the French New Wave Movement

Here you have the film techniques of this movement, the foundations of what we know today as Guerrilla Filmmaking.

The movies featured unprecedented methods of expression, such as seven-minute tracking shots (like the famous traffic jam sequence in Godard's 1967 film Week End). Also, these movies featured existencial themes, such as stressing the individual and the acceptance of the absurdity of human existence.

Lightweight cameras, lights, and sound equipment allowed the New Wave directors to shoot in the streets, rather than in studios. This fluid camera motion became a trademark of the movement, with shots often following characters down Paris streets.

Many of the French New Wave films were produced on small budgets, often shot in a friend's apartment, using the director's friends as the cast and crew. Directors were also forced to improvise with equipment (for example, using a shopping cart for tracking shots). The cost of film was also a major concern; thus, efforts to save film turned into stylistic innovations: for example, in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (À bout de souffle), several scenes feature Jump cuts, as they were filmed in one long take: parts that didn't work were simply cut right from the middle of the take, a purposeful stylistic decision.

The cinematic stylings of French New Wave brought a fresh look to cinema with improvised dialogue, rapid changes of scene, and shots that go beyond the common 180º axis. The camera was used not to mesmerize the audience with elaborate narrative and illusory images, but to play with and break past the common expectations of cinema. The techniques used to shock the audience out of submission and awe were so bold and direct that Jean-Luc Godard has been accused of having contempt for his audience. His stylistic approach can be seen as a desperate struggle against the mainstream cinema of the time, or a degrading attack on the viewer’s naivete. Either way, the challenging awareness represented by this movement remains in cinema today. Effects that now seem either trite or commonplace, such as a character stepping out of her role in order to address the audience directly, were radically innovative at the time.

Classic French cinema adhered to the principles of strong narrative, creating what Godard described as an oppressive and deterministic aesthetic of plot. In contrast, New Wave filmmakers made no attempts to suspend the viewer’s disbelief; in fact, they took steps to constantly remind the viewer that a film is just a sequence of moving images, no matter how clever the use of light and shadow. The result is a set of oddly disjointed scenes without attempt at unity; or an actor whose character changes from one scene to the next; or sets in which onlookers accidentally make their way onto camera along with extras, who in fact were hired to do just the same.

At the heart of New Wave technique is the issue of money and production value. In the context of social and economic troubles of a post-WWII France, filmmakers sought low-budget alternatives to the usual production methods. Half necessity and half vision, New Wave directors used all that they had available to channel their artistic visions directly to the theatre.


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The New Yorker recently published a great article about Godard & Truffaut and the birth of French New Wave Cinema:

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