The term French New Wave was coined by the popular French film magazine, Cahiers du Cinema, and it’s now used to describe the films of directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut.

The movies are known for their innovative filming techniques and a strong focus on the characters’ psychology.

They often show everyday life in France during the 1950s and 1960s.

 

FRENCH NEW WAVE FILMS

What Is French New Wave?

French New Wave is a movement in film that started in the late 50s and lasted through the 60s. It was marked by spontaneity, experimentation, and an anti-studio attitude.

The term “New Wave” was coined by French critic Michel Cournot to describe this new form of filmmaking that seemed to break traditional rules of cinema.

 

 

Some French New Wave movies include Breathless, Jules et Jim, and La Chinoise.

These three movies were released between 1959 to 1967 but were all filmed in France.

All three explore themes such as love or existentialism through unique perspectives that have been recognized internationally since then as hallmarks of this movement’s filmmaking style.

The movement is known for its use of jump cuts, hand-held camera shots, natural lighting, and improvisation.

What Is The French New Wave Movement?

The French New Wave is a movement in cinema that started with the release of François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” in 1959.

The style was characterized by making films about youth and middle-class life, and not privileging dialogue over visual effects.

In today’s world, this new wave has been influential on many filmmakers around the world who are exploring new ways to tell stories on film.

It is also often considered to have begun with “Les Quatre Cent Coups” (1959).

The goal of this movement was to create a new type of cinema, one that would be more relevant and reflective of how people actually live their lives.

These films were usually shot very quickly on location and without many crew members so they could be made for cheaper than traditional Hollywood films.

The most popular director during this time period was Jean-Luc Godard who is credited as being the father of the French New Wave.

His works are known for their quick cuts, hand-held cameras, jumpy editing style, natural lighting, and improvised dialogue.

The films themselves were unconventional too – they often had fragmented plots and scenes shot out of sequence so that editing could be used to bring coherence to them.

The main principle of this style is to create films with a more personal feel through techniques such as hand-held cameras, jump cuts, and natural lighting.

Best French New Wave Movies

French New Wave filmmakers were inspired by Italian Neorealism and Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman’s films from the 1950s.

They also incorporated aspects of Japanese movie-making into their work as well as elements from American avant-garde cinema.

These films often focus on existentialist themes such as loneliness, despair, boredom, alienation, etc., with many featuring an alienated protagonist who pursues isolation or withdraws within him/herself to cope with society’s shortcomings.

This guide will cover some of these directors including:

  • François Truffaut,
  • Jean Luc Godard,
  • Jacques Rivette,
  • Claude Chabrol,
  • Eric Rohmer and
  • Agnes Varda.

Read on to learn more about this influential group of filmmakers!

Best French New Wave Films

The style was reflective of an anti-bourgeois sentiment among youth at the time but also drew from many American films at the time such as Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane or Howard Hawks’s Red River.

French New Wave films of the 1960s are often hailed as some of the most influential and ground-breaking pieces of cinema ever made.

These revolutionary films were shot in a new, innovative style that is still being copied today.

This blog post will give you a list of movies from this era that are worth viewing for any cinephile.

Breathless (A bout de souffle) (1960)

Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (A bout de souffle) is a French New Wave film that was released in 1960.

The film is loosely based on the American novel, “The Asphalt Jungle” by W. R. Burnett and tells the story of Michel Poiccard, a criminal who steals cars for an illegal street race with his American friend Alain Charnier.

As Michel robs yet another car on the outskirts of Paris to make money for their next race he is chased down by two police officers and shot after refusing to give up without a fight.

This film takes place in France during what many consider to be one of Europe’s darkest periods in history: World War II.

The movie is considered one of the most influential films ever made. It has been referenced widely across various media such as music, literature, fashion, and art.

Breathless’ success helped create an international market for French cinema.

The film was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. This blog post will explore some of the key themes and ideas explored by Jean-Luc Godard in Breathless, as well as provide commentary on how these themes are relevant today.

Sale
Breathless (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg (Actors)
  • Jean-Luc Godard (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Jules et Jim (1962)

Jules et Jim is a French film from 1962. It was directed by François Truffaut and stars Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre and Jean-Pierre Léaud. The movie is considered to be one of the most important films in the French New Wave genre.

Jules et Jim tells the story of Jules (Jeanne Moreau), an attractive woman who lives with her widowed mother and works as a salesperson at their family’s small clothing store in Rouen; she meets Jim (Oskar Werner) when he comes into town on vacation with his brother Franz (Henri Serre).

The movie won at Bodil Award for Best Non-American Film in 1963 and Nastro d’Argento for Best Director of a Foreign Film in 1962.

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Jules and Jim (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray + DVD]
  • Jules And Jim (Criterion Collection) - Blu-ray/ DVD Used Like New
  • Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre (Actors)
  • François Truffaut (Director) - François Truffaut (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

   

Pierrot le fou (1965)

Frenetic and chaotic, this film is a true testament to the French New Wave. The story follows Guy (Jean-Paul Belmondo) as he meets up with his old friend Pierrot (Michel Piccoli) after being released from prison.

They soon embark on an adventure that leads them across France. Along the way, they pick up hitchhiker Suzanne (Anna Karina), who becomes a major player in their lives.

This film was co-written by Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, two of France’s most well known directors. It showcases many of the stylistic techniques popularized during the French NewWave movement such as jump cuts and handheld camera work.

French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film Pierrot le fou is a postmodern masterpiece that follows the exploits of two criminals, Ferdinand (Michel Piccoli) and Marianne (Anna Karina).

The story is told in an episodic style with references to popular culture such as television commercials and fashion magazines. In addition, Godard employs cinematic techniques like jump cuts to make the audience feel like they are watching real-life unfold before their eyes.

These innovative qualities have made this film one of the most important films in cinema history.

Pierrot le fou (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Raymond Devos, Dirk Sanders, Graziella Galvani (Actors)
  • Jean-Luc Godard (Director) - Georges de Beauregard (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Le mépris (1963)

Le mépris (1963) is a French film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. It was his first feature film in color!

This film was made during the height of Godard’s creative genius.

It is about an American writer, played by Michel Piccoli, and his wife Camille played by Anna Karina who is in Paris for work.

The story follows their lives and how they interact with society in Paris while also visiting other places such as Switzerland that have no relevance to the plot but add more color to the scenes.

The story, which takes place during the early days of cinema, follows Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli), who returns to Paris after 20 years abroad.

He meets up with his former wife Chantal (Brigitte Bardot) and tries to make amends for how he treated her before their marriage ended, but she is now married to an unfaithful businessman named Victor Laszlo (Jack Palance).

Contempt (Le Mépris) [Blu-ray]
  • Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance (Actors)
  • Jean-Luc Godard (Director)
  • Spanish (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Hiroshima, mon amour (1959)

Hiroshima, mon amour tells the story of a French-Japanese couple living in Japan after World War II.

The film is based on the director’s own experiences, which serve as an allegory for the impact that war has on those who live through it.

It was released during a time when nuclear weapons were very much in the public eye and continue to be relevant today as we still grapple with their effects.

The film was directed by Alain Resnais, and was written by him and Marguerite Duras.

The movie follows two characters, Jean-Louis (played by Eiji Okada) and Yvonne (played by Machiko Kyo).

They are both Japanese who have had their lives profoundly affected by World War II. As they recount the past to each other, Jean Louis tells of being involved in the occupation as well as how he feels about what has happened during this time.

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Hiroshima mon amour [Blu-ray]
  • Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada (Actors)
  • Alain Resnais (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962)

Directed by Agnès Varda in 1962. Starring Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, and  Dominique Davray.

This movie is one of the most influential films of its time because it broke free from traditional filming and editing styles to tell the story with more authenticity.

Selfish pop singer Cléo (Corinne Marchand) has two hours to wait until the results of her biopsy come back.

After an ominous tarot card reading, she visits her friends, all of whom fail to give her the emotional support she needs. Wandering around Paris, she finally finds comfort talking with a soldier in a park. On leave from the Algerian War, his troubles put hers in perspective.

As they talk and walk, Cléo comes to terms with her selfishness, finding peace before the results come back.

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Cleo from 5 to 7 (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray (Actors)
  • Agns Varda (Director) - Agns Varda (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

La Collectionneuse (1967)

La Collectionneuse (1967) by director Éric Rohmer, starring Patrick Bauchau, Haydée Politoff and Daniel Pommereulle.

The film won the Silver Bear Extraordinary Jury Prize at the 17th Berlin International Film Festival. It is often considered one of Rohmer’s best films.

This is Eric Rohmer’s first color feature and it is absolutely magnificent to look at. There are several gorgeous beach scenes.

The cinematography all around is just glorious. Aside from that, the acting is wonderful. There is so much chemistry between the main characters that it electrifies the film. It also provides a realistic tale of the struggle to keep morality.

Translated as “The Collector” in English, La Collectionneuse is an overlooked, underrated film that should be considered a classic.

La Collectionneuse [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - France ]
  • La Collectionneuse
  • La Collectionneuse
  • Patrick Bauchau, Haydée Politoff, Daniel Pommereulle (Actors)
  • Eric Rohmer (Director) - La Collectionneuse (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)

La réligieuse (1966)

La réligieuse is a 1966 film by Jacques Rivette about the life of an ugly, hunchbacked nun who lives in seclusion.

The film’s title translates to “The Nun” and it tells the story of Sister Thérèse (played brilliantly by Edith Scob) as she struggles with her faith and her desire for human contact.

When two young novices are sent to live with her, she has trouble adjusting both to them and to their modern attitudes.

The film is a French production that follows the story of Judith, a young woman who has chosen to renounce her life in order to devote herself solely to God.

The movie was directed by Jacques Rivette and stars Anna Karina as Judith.

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The Nun (La Religieuse)
  • Jacques Rivette (Director)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Les bonnes femmes (1960)

Les Bonnes Femmes was directed by Claude Chabrol and released in 1960.

The story follows the lives of five housewives who live in the village of Pont-Saint-Esprit that are tired of being taken advantage of by their husbands.

They decide to take matters into their own hands and kill them all, but as they go about their plan one woman starts to have second thoughts about what they’re doing.

Its mix of melodrama, absurd comedy, and tragedy are typical for the early, experimental New Wave films.

Though unsuccessful upon its initial release in France, it was subject to critical reevaluation and is now regarded as the best of Chabrol’s early films.

There are a considerable number of scenes set on the streets, and the viewer gets an expansive look at how Paris looked at the time, in night and day.

Les Bonnes Femmes (English Subtitled)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Stephane Audran, Bernadette Lafont, Claude Berri (Actors)
  • Claude Chabrol (Director) - Claude Chabrol (Writer) - Raymond Hakim (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)

Le bonheur (1965)

Le Bonheur (“Happiness”) is a drama film directed by Agnès Varda. The film won two awards at the 15th Berlin International Film Festival, including the Jury Grand Prix.

It stars Jean-Claude, Drouot Marie-France Boyer and Marcelle Faure-Bertin.

Francois is a young carpenter married to Therese.

They have two little children. All goes well, life is beautiful, the sun shines and the birds sing.

One day, Francois meets Emilie, they fall in love and become lovers. He still loves his wife and wants to share his new greater happiness with her.

Le Bonheur [DVD]
  • English (Subtitle)

Ma nuit chez Maud (1969)

Ma nuit chez Maud (1969) is a French film directed by Éric Rohmer.

The film was written based on an autobiographical novel of the same name, which tells the story of a love affair between an adolescent boy and his aunt’s girlfriend.

It has been called “one of the most original contributions to cinema from France in the twentieth century” by critic Leonard Maltin.

It is the third film (fourth in order of release) in his series of Six Moral Tales.

As a canvas for Rohmer’s ideas, it’s crucial in making them feel as crisply distilled and newly debatable as the day they were aired.

My Night with Maud ( Ma nuit chez Maud ) ( Six Moral Tales III: My Night at Maud's ) (Blu-Ray & DVD Combo) [ NON-USA FORMAT, Blu-Ray, Reg.B Import - France ]
  • My Night with Maud ( Ma nuit chez Maud ) ( Six Moral Tales III: My Night at Maud's ) (Blu-Ray & DVD
  • My Night with Maud
  • Ma nuit chez Maud
  • Six Moral Tales III: My Night at Maud's
  • Jean-Louis Trintignant, Françoise Fabian, Marie-Christine Barrault (Actors)

Zazie dans le métro (1960)

Zazie dans le métro is the first novel by Raymond Queneau, published in 1957. The book was adapted into English as Zazie in the Metro for its release in 1960, and sometimes called Zazie is a 1960 film directed by Louis Malle.

The story revolves around Zazie, an 11-year-old girl who travels to Paris from the country with her mother and two uncles for one day of adventure in the big city.

It stars the 11-year-old actress Catherine Demongeot as Zazie. In it, she plays an inquisitive young girl who spends the day with her uncle Alfred (played by Jean Desailly) on a visit to Paris from their home in suburban Saint Germain-en-Laye.

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Zazie dans le métro (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Zazie dans le mÃtro (Criterion Collection) - DVD Used Like New
  • Catherine Demongeot, Philippe Noiret, Hubert Deschamps (Actors)
  • Louis Malle (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

Les demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)

A 1967 French musical film directed by Jacques Demy, Les demoiselles de Rochefort is a charming story of two sisters who live in a coastal town with their widowed father.

The film follows the girls as they try to find love and happiness while escaping from the constraints of their traditional society.

Les demoiselles de Rochefort was voted one of the ten best films ever made in France and has been praised for its beautiful cinematography, lively music, and memorable characters.

The ensemble cast is headlined by real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac, along with Gene Kelly.

The Young Girls of Rochefort (English Subtitled)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Dorléac, Jacques Perrin (Actors)
  • Jacques Demy (Director) - Jacques Demy (Writer) - Mag Bodard (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: G (General Audience)

Le beau Serge and Les cousins (1959)

Les beau Serge is a 1959 French film directed by Claude Chabrol.

The film tells the story of two cousins who meet up in Paris and go on an adventure that ends with them being involved in shady dealings.

This movie was enjoyable to watch as I enjoyed how it explored the themes of crime and family pressure, while also creating a sense of tension for the audience.

The movie has been released by Criterion Collection under its Eclipse series providing classic films that have impacted cinema.

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Les cousins (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Gerard Blain, Jean-Claude Brialy, Juliette Mayniel (Actors)
  • Claude Chabrol (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a 1964 French film directed by Jacques Demy.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award and features the song “The Windmills of Your Mind.”

Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve), a beautiful young Frenchwoman who works at a small-town boutique selling umbrellas, falls for dashing mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). Their brief romance is interrupted when Guy is drafted to serve in the Algerian War.

Though pregnant by Guy, Geneviève marries an older businessman, Roland (Marc Michel), and begins to move on with her life. Throughout the musical film, all the characters’ dialogue is conveyed through song.

The film boasts music by Michel Legrand and token gusts of New Wave realism, lightened and made lithe for a lighter-footed genre. (The heroine loves a car mechanic.) Add color photography to dazzle.

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo (Actors)
  • Jacques Demy (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Paris nous appartient (1960)

Paris Belongs to Us (French: Paris nous appartient, sometimes translated as Paris Is Ours) is a 1961 French mystery film directed by Jacques Rivette.

Set in Paris in 1957 and often referencing Shakespeare’s play Pericles, the title is highly ironic because the characters are immigrants or alienated and do not feel that they belong at all.

While Paris nous appartient is exemplary in all the aspects cited above, the tone, affective impact, and formal-conceptual make-up of the film are almost completely opposite to that of other noted French films of the time.

While more famous nouvelle vague works seem to aspire to zeitgeist-rendering, painting portraits of turn of the decade Paris that are full of hopeful energy, partly achieved via a then-fresh hybrid of modernist experimentation and pop-culture references.

Rivette’s film is shot through with thick pessimism, alienation, and late-50s paranoia (a mood which, as many have pointed out, now looks politically, morally, and psychologically prescient in the wake of paranoid 70s cinema).

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Paris Belongs to Us (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Paris Belongs To Us (Criterion Collection) - Blu-ray Used Like New
  • Betty Schneider, Jean-Claude Brialy (Actors)
  • Jacques Rivette (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Tirez sur le pianiste (1960)

A film directed by François Truffaut that stars Charles Aznavour as the titular pianist.
Charlie (Charles Aznavour) is a former classical pianist who has changed his name and now plays jazz in a grimy Paris bar.

When Charlie’s brothers, Richard (Jean-Jacques Aslanian) and Chico (Albert Remy), surface and ask for Charlie’s help while on the run from gangsters they have scammed, he aids their escape.

Soon Charlie and Lena (Marie Dubois), a waitress at the same bar, face trouble when the gangsters (Claude Mansard, Daniel Boulanger) arrive, looking for his brothers.

Tirez sur le pianiste
  • English (Subtitle)
  • French (Publication Language)

Last Year At Marienbad (1961)

Last Year at Marienbad is a film directed by Alain Resnais and written by Jean-Luc Godard. The 1961 French New Wave film, which follows a man’s quest to find his true love, was inspired by the 1942 novella of the same title by Czech author Hermann Broch.

The protagonist wanders through an opulent hotel looking for his lover who he believes has been abandoned there with him.

The use of black-and-white cinematography in Last Year at Marienbad helps create an otherworldly atmosphere that is both alluring and unsettling.

The film won the prestigious Palme d’Or award at Cannes Film Festival in 1961. “Marienbad” can be interpreted as a psychological drama or even science fiction with its futuristic setting, but it also has many surrealist qualities that make it difficult to classify into one genre specifically.

In particular, there are scenes where objects change size or shape before our very eyes; for example when their car appears to shrink before disappearing entirely from the view.

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Last Year at Marienbad [Blu-ray]
  • Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi (Actors)
  • Alain Resnais (Director)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

La jetée (1962)

La jetée (1962) is a French science fiction short film directed by Chris Marker. The plot follows the life of a man who has been chosen to be part of an experiment:

he can only live for one day, and every day at noon he must take a pill that will make him forget the past six hours.

He spends his days in solitude, wandering around Paris and remembering scenes from his own past, as well as events from history.

One night when he does not take his pill on time, memories of World War II bombard him and force him to confront some difficult truths about himself and humankind’s capacity for evil.

La jetée won the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival 1963 and has been noted as one of the most influential films of all time due to its unique cinema.

French director Chris Marker (1921-2012) is best known for his experimental film “La Jetée” (1962).

The film was created as a response to the nuclear panic of the 1950s and 60s, with its themes of time travel and memory loss.

It is much like a traditional science fiction story in that it has no dialogue but instead relies on still photos with voice-over narration from one man’s memories.

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La Jetee / Sans Solei (The Criteiron Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Étienne Becker, Jean Négroni, Hélène Chatelain (Actors)
  • Chris Marker (Director) - Anatole Dauman (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

How Did The French New Wave Movement Originate?

The new wave filmmakers were doing something different than what had been done before them; they wanted to show real life on screen rather than romanticized images or happy endings.

They wanted to create realistic films that depicted everyday life in France which differed from Hollywood’s glamorous portrayal of America.

Along with their contemporaries, they also wanted to update filmmaking techniques so they could shoot on location instead of using studio sets.

The New Wave movement began when critic Andre Bazin published an article entitled ‘The Evolution Of Cinema’ in 1952 which called for filmmakers to break away from tradition and create more modernistic films like those being produced in Italy at the time.

How The French New Wave Changed Film History Forever

In the decades following World War II, European filmmakers and thinkers sought to shake up traditional filmmaking.

These directors were pushing against what they saw as conservative filmmaking traditions which favored actors overstory and embraced escapism from reality.

They wanted their audience members to be more engaged in the world they were watching on screen rather than passively watching like an outsider looking in.

What was once a small movement of artists and filmmakers in France became one of the most influential movements in cinema,  through their films, they pushed boundaries on the cinematic form with techniques such as jump cuts and handheld camera shots to create an immediacy that had not been seen before.

They also introduced more complex narratives including themes of existentialism and rebellion against bourgeois institutions which were largely untouched by Hollywood at the time.

The legacy of this movement is still felt today in how we make movies across all genres from horror to animated features.

The filmmakers at this time were considered radicals for their abandoning of traditional cinematic conventions like editing, character development, plot, scripted dialogues, and other elements that had been central to filmmaking since the beginning.

Many believe these changes have revolutionized cinematography forever.
 

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