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Friday, 3 February 2012

French Cinema

The French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague)

In the last few weeks I have speaking to Chris, a fellow parent who collects his children  from school; we have touched many subjects, but none have lit the taper quit as much as French cinema.
I went through a phase of French movies and have since sort of lost touch with it, but on reflection, and through looking up recent films, the French really have a handle on though-provoking cinema as an art form.

France is the birthplace of cinema, when cinematographe was patented by the Lumiere Brothers in 1895, although Hollywood became the hotspot for movies, French film-makers have played a huge role in shaping how films are made. The French New Wave movement (La Nouvelle Vague) of the sixties, which started out as a series of articles in the film magazine Cahier du Cinema and, led by Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol, became a new way of making films, inspired the seventies ‘movie-brats’ of Spielberg, Lucas and Scorsese. Now we have many French directors being handed blockbuster movies, while at the same time, films like The Artist are taking the world by storm.

La Nouvelle Vague was a direct criticism to the style of movies being made at that time, and the argument was that the director was the author of a movie. This auteur theory was given strength by the works of, not only by French film-makers like Jean Renoir, but also by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. The articles written by Truffaut, Godard and co, first appeared in Cahiers du Cinema in 1948 and the main focus was of cinema as an art form, that it can be expressive in the same way as a novel or a painting. Nowadays we consider cinema as a very serious art form, but in those days it was seen as something far less, a crude art for the masses; this snobbery was probably not done any damage by some of the output from Hollywood. It took the thinking of the French New Wave to alter that opinion, to give film a voice and without this movement we may never have had such works as The Seventh Seal or The Seven Samurai.

So where do you start?

An excellent place to begin with French cinema would be with some of the works from ‘the new wave’. A Bout de Souffle, by Jean-Luc Godard, was the first and most influential. It broke new ground with its close visuals and jump cuts, that were a far cry from the sweeping, epic shots that audiences had become used to. This was edgy cinema, bold and raw; a template that is still seen in today’s directors.

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