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Poignant, yet shortlived: La Nouvelle Vague

url scanning the ways in which this brief movement fits into the vast history of francophone cinema

The turn of phrase La Nouvelle Vague meaning New Wave in French applies itself to the history of French Cinema which spanned the years 1959 to 1960. Starting with a straight-forward, journalistic label applied to the youths of 1958, the term Nouvelle Vague soon brought together a whole generation of cinema lovers who began their feature-length films at the end of the fifties. Some individuals, who were already being identified by their short-film outputs, were providing the impetus for the movement. Among these individuals we find, notably, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Goddard, Claude Chabrol, Éric Mohrer et Jacques Rivette.


A cinematographic phenomenon quite paradoxical, the Nouvelle Vague was made up of screenwriters, events, books, and the extremely diverse concepts and ideas of the director.


The Nouvelle Vague appeared as a formidable movement – perhaps even a tiny revolution – in so far as it allowed for new creators to attempt to renew French cinema. You could say that the sole common trait among the talented creators of Nouvelle Vague was their willingness to distance themselves from the general consensus of what was deemed ‘quality cinema’ to the profit of more private creations, with their out of the ordinary methods: a very small budget, a reduced team, unfamiliar actors, natural settings and lack of authorisation form the Centre of Cinematography and the moving image.


The 1959 Cannes Film Festival essentially belonged to Nouvelle Vague, represented by Les Quatres Cents Coups, by François Truffaut, upon whom the prize for Best Director was bestowed. The following summer began the creations of À bout de souffle by Godard and Signe du lion by Rohmer – whose respective plots take place in a bizarre Paris – while Rivette had just finished Paris nous appartient. Safe to say, the movement had taken flight.


Dating the demise of the phenomenon that was Nouvelle Vague proves to be difficult however. The first crisis of a series of commercial failures was seen in 1962; and certain films were no longer commercially distributed. Alongside this, the Nouveaux filmmakers emphasised the existing gap between their creative originality and the receptiveness of the cinema’s audiences, which, despite everything, remained, and still remain, a mass audience. The producers themselves supported the films that best conformed to the criteria of the general public. But, at any rate, even if the success of the Nouvelle Vague only lasted two or three years, films such as À bout de souffle or Les Quatres Cents Coups have since become critical films of reference for the young cinema lovers all over the world.

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