Culture for Dummies: “La Nouvelle Vague”

‘A form in which artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel.’ This was how the manifesto of Alexandre Astruc expressed the potential of cinema in 1948. It was this idea which later grew into the French New Wave cinema of the 1950s and 1960s. New Wave was never a contained, prescribed movement – in fact the term was first coined by a journalist, Françoise Giroud. She used it to describe a new generation which was asked in a public survey:  ‘Are you happy? Explain your reply’.

Disjointed and fragmented with long takes and emotive pauses, New Wave cinema was a break away from the stylistic, Hollywood films which preceded it. Instead of huge studios filled with actors and dancers, the French New Wavers would prefer light, portable cameras to enable them to shoot anyplace, anytime. New Wavers collaborated with youthful energy – that was the essence – they starred in and directed each other’s films.

New Wave plots can often appear bizarre but are always deeply rooted in reality. Chabrol’s Le Boucher shows a sweet, tentative courtship in a sleepy village before the idyll is rocked by a serial killer. Another famous New Waver, Jean-Luc Godard, directed the film Vivre sa vie depicting an aspiring actress-turned-prostitute as constrained by circumstance.

New Wavers dealt with racy and hard hitting themes but it was their style that truly made them new. Splicing and jump cuts were just a few of the ways they pioneered our cinematic experience.

Sarah Shapcott