How New was the French New Wave?




“A Bout De Souffle set the mould for the New Wave more than its precedents, not only in terms of its cast and crew, but also in its rebellious style and attitude. Sight and Sound magazine called it ‘the group’s intellectual manifesto’ and perhaps more than any other film of the period it captures the New Wave’s revolt against traditional forms of cinematic storytelling (Campbell,M 2001)”.

In the past, French cinema was heavily controlled, typically the most popular films in France in the 1930’s period was crime dramas. However, after World War II, the Blum Byrnes agreement allowed America to begin its influence on the French film industry and opened up the French cinema market to non-domestic productions (McNeill, T 1999).

The French New Wave or ‘La Nouvelle Vague’ challenged this, which allowed previous film critics to change the way the people view European cinema today. At such a critical time period, filmmakers were often compared with one another, others favoured whilst others often rejected (Douchet, J 1999). The most famous directors in this industry to were Jean Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and François Truffaut and all played a big part in allowing the movement to have the reputation it does today as not only did they adore film, they also played a part in writing for Cahiers Du Cinema and Truffaut worked with respectable elders such as Andre Bazin which gave them the upper hand when making their own films.

It is argued that labelling “French New Wave” would be incorrect as it is seen to be heavily influenced by Hollywood, as was a lot of European companies post 1940’s, which triggered film industry’s to improve what they produce for the big screen. Despite seen as an avant-garde movement, the French used Hollywood’s codes and conventions especially Godard in Breathless. His use of iconography is what depicts this opinion. By including stereotypical American cars (Cadillacs) and the use of Patricia, the American girlfriends favourite things e.g Authors (William Faulkner) and selling American newspapers (Campbell M, 2001), it allows French viewers to use Stuart Hall’s Reception Theory as they are familiar with conventions from Hollywood’s spectacular films and grow more of a liking to Godard’s due to the recognition aspect of the theory (Karim H, 2016). This strengthens the argument that the movement was not as contemporary as it seemed in France.

However,Breathless(1960)”, a film about a criminal on the run, strongly admired as soon as its release in March 1960, easily portrays the artistic conventions from the New Wave, such as: jump cuts, fragmented narrative, handheld camera work and improvised jazz scoring(Campbell M, 2001). This was unlike anything French cinema had seen before and allowed directors to really dive in to what is now known as ‘Auteur Theory’. This allowed directors to invent their own unique style that they are recognised for. For example, Francois Truffaut’s “hyper-modern, rebellious style” (Lyttelton O, 2014) as seen in his most famous film 400 Blows(1959).


Although parts of the New Wave were influenced by Hollywood, the movement was very new for the time and has influenced a lot of American film directors today. Hitchcock in 1954 after an extremely famous Cahiers Du Cinema article, abandoned his traditional mass-market film production approach and focused on a more stylistic outlook on his work (Douchet J, 1999). A more recent example of an Auteur inspired by French New Wave; Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino dedicated his first feature Reservoir Dogs to Godard. Godard also inspired a dance scene in Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction, in which the characters break into a dance within a restaurant (Coates K, 2010).



Campbell, M. (2001) The Pocket Essential: French New Wave, pg.40,41,42, Pocket Essentials.

Mcneill, T. (1999) Introduction to Postwar French Cinema. Retrieved from

Douchet, J. (1998) French New Wave, pg.56,98, Distributed Art Publishers Inc.

Farhadipour, A. (2016) A Review of Reception Theories Since Aristotle Until the Twentieth Century’s Reception Theorists. Retrieved from

Lyttelton, O. (2014) The Essentials: Francois Truffaut. Retrieved from

Coates, K. (2010). French New Wave: The Influencing of the Influencers. Retrieved from

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