Breathless cut

Belmondo and Seberg

By Sophie Nellis

The French New Wave – known as la nouvelle vague– was a celebration of youth, Paris and, above all, cinema. Many people don’t know that the term nouvelle vague was first used in 1957 to describe the new generation of French youth, emancipated 18 to 30 year olds who were free-thinking and keen to throw off the legacy of the Second World War. It was only following the success of François Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cent Coups and Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival that the term began to be applied to cinema.

So what was so new about the New Wave? The young filmmakers leading the movement, Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer, made their films on a shoe string, preferring to shoot in the streets than in studios. They embraced new technology, such as hand-held cameras and mobile microphones, and often worked with non-professional actors. Improvisation was encouraged and when it came to editing, they happily ignored traditional practices. The low-budget, youthful and innovative films were attacked by critics for being slapdash, unprofessional and imperfect.

À bout de souffle (1960) is probably the best-loved of New Wave films. It tells the story of Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a petty criminal on the run from the police, and his lover, an American student named Patricia (Jean Seberg). Sitting in cafés or strolling down boulevards, the young couple are enthralled by the glamour and confusion of 1960s Paris. Just as Hollywood movies had exposed New York to cinema audiences around the world, it was through New Wave films that the world came to know the sights and sounds of Paris.

The legacy of New Wave representations of the city, whether it be the glamour of the Champs Elysées in À bout de souffle or the back streets of Montmartre in Les Quatre Cents Coups, continues to influence our impressions of Paris. The New Wave changed the way films were made, produced and watched. Thanks to directors like Godard and Truffaut, cinema became an art form and filmmakers artists.

Top 5 New Wave films:

Quatre cent coups (1959) François Truffaut

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) Alain Resnais

À bout de souffle (1960) Jean-Luc Godard

Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) Agnès Varda

Jules et Jim (1962) François Truffaut

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