The French New Wave



“After having been successively a fairground attraction, an amusement analogous to boulevard theater, or a means of preserving images of an era, it is gradually becoming a language.  By language, I mean a form in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they mat be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel.  This is why I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of the “camera-stylo.” – Alexandre Astruc

(Michel 31)


The new age of French cinema might not have taken the name of the Camera-Stylo but it certainly did manifest as predicted by Astruc.  Now know as the New Wave this shift represents more than just a change in the film industry.  It has been linked with the creation of the Fifth  Republic of France and de Gaulle's entrance into power (Austin 13).  In addition, the New Wave corresponds with  a change in how people outside of the film industry view film.  As Astruc states, film became a language.  It is an art, a means through which the director can express himself.  The Cahiers du Cinèma broke the ground for the New Wave to develop through its articles and criticisms.  It "reserved contempt" for the film contributions of the Tradition de Qualité - The Cinèma de Papa (Austin 13).

Towards the end of the 1950's the film industry was suffering as the Cinéma de Papa style films continued to be produced.  Audiences had grown tired of the elaborate sets and production and needed something more real.  New Wave style films allowed to audience to connect with characters and sictuations.  It provided a more realistic style of filming.  This is developed further in Michel Marie's book The French New Wave: An Artistic School.

    The New Wave Agenda:

  1.  The auteur director is also the scenarist for the film.
  2. The director does not follow a strict, pre-established shooting script., leaving instead much of the filming to improvisation in the conception of sequences, dialogue, and acting.
  3. The director privileges shooting in natural locations and avoids building artificial sets in the studio.
  4. The director uses a small crew of only a few people.
  5. The director opts for “direct sound” recorded during filming rather than relying too much on post-synchronization.
  6. The director avoids depending upon overly heavy additional lighting units, and thus selects, along with the cinematographer, a very fast film stock that requires less light.
  7. The director employs non-professionals as actors.
  8. If the director has access to professionals, newer actors will be chosen and directed in a freer manner than conventional productions allow.

(Michel 70-71)

Directors and producers of New Wave films, then, achieved an intimate connection with their audiences through realism not in outward appearance of the final product, but in the truthfulness of the films' constituents. Through use of improvisation, on-site cinematography, and intimate casts and crews, filmmakers capitalized on financial troubles that could have spelled the end of a less flexible film industry and turned prospective death warrants into gold mines. Audiences appreciated the wholesome filmmaking, and in a phenomenon analogous to the past decade's creation of 'reality television' in America, less turned out to be more in reference to the superficial, eternally fake tangibles like elaborate set and pedigreed cast that the industry assumed were necessary prior to the late 1950s hiccup in French cinema's popularity. Left over from an era when the believable, intricate illusion of reality overshadowed the importance of artistic expression in the filmgoer's mind, filmmakers bypassed excess expense by using things that didn't only look real, but actually were: themes, characters, sounds, and locations included.




 Cinèma de Papa

The Red and the Black

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

 New Wave

Cléo from 5 to 7

The 400 Blows