We will never stop feeling the effects that the French New Wave brought to filmmaking, and this is why.
Some filmmaking movements leave a lasting effect on modern-day cinema. French New Wave possibly crashed upon the world of cinema the hardest, engraving its experimental practices that challenged the filmmaking of the mid-1950s and late 1960s.
French New Wave, also known as the New Wave, is a film movement that rose to popularity to give directors full creative control over their work, allowing them to break the conventions of studio filmmaking in favor of improvisational storytelling. If you want to know more about the history of the French New Wave and some of the most influential works to come out of the movement, then this article will tell you everything you need to know.
There is no doubt that the French New Wave changed cinema forever, but we are more interested in how the movement’s philosophies and ideologies are still present today. In Depth Cine breaks down these four main approaches to filmmaking and style that might not be around if not for the French New Wave.
You can check out In Depth Cine’s full video below on how the French New Wave changed cinema forever.
The state of filmmaking in the late 1950s was largely focused on filming safe literary works in traditional, unimaginative ways, with actors, studios, or producers being the selling point of the film and receiving much of the credit for the film’s success.
Directors were often regarded as just another crew member that had to follow the strict visual styles and narrative structures of a script approved by the producers and studios. The cinema of the French New Wave put forth the idea that the real authors, or auteurs, of a film, should be the director. The director was thought to be the driving force behind each project by creating a specific visual style.
When looking at directors' work, the themes, tone, or overall feeling from their films can be consistent or identifiable across their overall body of work. The movement wanted a viewer to be able to glance at a film and immediately know who directed it.
As we know it today, this philosophy of the New Wave took off, allowing many directors to make a name for themselves with their specific visual styles and tones. Quentin Tarantino's films are identifiable through their ensemble cast, chapter dividers, mixed genre conventions, and his ability to pay homage to the history of cinema. Wes Anderson’s films will always have fast-paced comedy, symmetrical compositions, consistent storybook color palettes, and highly stylized art direction.
Auteur theory is still alive and well, and there is a good chance that it is presently instilled into the philosophy of filmmaking.
It was a financially risky pursuit to break away from traditional French cinema in post-World War II France. Many directors working at this time had to work with a low budget and discover new ways to adapt their visions to the budgetary constraints.
The lack of budget could have been easily seen as a disadvantage, but the filmmakers of the French New Wave saw this as an opportunity to break the conventional rules even more, to hone in on their style. Taking cues from the bare-bones style of the Italian Neorealist movement, filmmakers cut costs by shooting on location and working with non-professional actors that were pulled from the “set.”
Many of the French New Wave films worked on location with a bare-bones approach to lighting, relying heavily on natural light. With homemade DIY camera rigs, the smaller-sized crews were able to adapt to any location and work quickly without having to change much about the set.
This approach further democratized filmmaking by showing other creatives that big studios were not necessary to make great cinema, and made the craft more accessible than ever before. As more and more low-budget digital cinema cameras were introduced to the market, the accessibility of filmmaking grew even more.
Many low-budget indie films today still use the New Wave films as influences or references to their work, learning how to create a beautiful shot by using what you already own. It’s why we at No Film School still talk about so many of these French New Wave films, and how so many breathtaking shots can be achieved with limited resources and a creative drive to make something new and exciting.
Due to the low-budget constraints that were embraced by the filmmakers of the French New Wave, the visual style of these films was directly affected. The low-budget environment promoted the rejection of traditional filmmaking rules, embracing a director’s experimental style above everything else.
Part of this experimental style was informed by a documentary approach to cinematography that freed the cast and crew to move freely through the set, improvising if they desired. The films were largely shot at a real location, relying heavily on natural light which allowed the crew to shoot 360 degrees. A reactive, handheld camera captured the improvised dialogue, blocking, and actions provided by the cast of non-professional actors.
The movement paved a path that allowed filmmakers to work in a naturalistic style that embraced realism rather than the glamor that was cinema at the time. The cinematography highlighted the beauty of the world that already existed, and found new ways to embrace that beauty by heavily relying on it.
Since the French New Wave movement was about the rejection of the traditional rules of filmmaking, directors like Jean-Luc Godard, Agnés Varda, and Jacques Rivette embraced the newfound freedom in the movement to experiment and create the sense that anything could happen.
Filmmakers saw the film as a medium much like novelists and painters, translating thoughts or ideas by experimenting with form and style. Much of this experimentation was done in the editing process, allowing the director and editor to sit down with the footage and construct the story in a non-traditional way.
Godard was known for breaking down the medium into a more self-conscious, postmodern vision by having the characters break the fourth wall and address the audience. This allowed Godard to directly confront the audience, letting them know that the film was something constructed by an artist.
This form of experimentation is still very present and often celebrated in modern filmmaking. Not only do we see the techniques of the French New Wave filmmakers in present cinema, but we have embraced modern filmmakers’ desires to experiment further with form, narrative, and structure to create a story that elicits a reaction from the viewer.
The French New Wave was about a rejection of a system of filmmaking that tried to confine what the art form was rather than embracing the creativity of those in the medium. Many of the movements' philosophies and ideologies are still present in filmmaking and continue to encourage new indie filmmakers to create with what is available to them.
By tearing down the rules of cinema, filmmakers can create something new and exciting that could influence the next wave of filmmaking. Never let the confines of your situation determine what you can or cannot achieve.
If the French New Wave taught us anything, it’s that we are only limited by our creativity.
What are some of your favorite techniques, shots, or visual styles from the French New Wave? Let us know in the comments below!