French New Wave

My tutor recommended looking at French New Wave cinema for a way to view movies that don’t solely rely on action and drama. I admit I had never even heard of French New Wave before this course and as always was intrigued to find out more.

French New wave is a revolutionary type of cinema, created by four film critics in the 1950’s. They were fed up of thit involves breaking the cinematic rules, sometimes creating non scripted dialogue but most importantly it seems to go straight to the heart of what it is to be human, depicting a mirror of everyday life on the big screen, all the falls and triumphs and emotions everyone goes through. That is one of the reasons why this cinematic movement was imagined.

“Although they admired many of the studio films being made at the time, they also felt that most mainsteam cinema, especially in France, was not expressing human life, thought, and emotion in a genuine way. Many of the popular movies of the era, they argued, were dry, recycled, inexpressive and out of touch with the daily lives of post-war French youth.”

Breathless – 

Peter Haveland “this scene is perhaps relevant”

Michel Poiccard for no reason shoots a policeman dead and then finds himself on the run. Hunted by the authorities he plans a getaway to Italy but falls for a journalist student, Patricia Franchini.

The scene features jump cuts as does the full movie, in this example relating to elements mentioned in the movie, “I want us to be like romeo and juliet’ there is a sudden jump cut to a static picture on the wall of the Shakespearean couple. The scene is similar throughout, long shots of Michel and Patricia talking. Nowadays this shot would jump between the characters talking, perhaps some wide angle compositions and close ups. As this stays static it allows you to focus on the discourse and emotion of the scene. The camera is also shaky in shot three creating a home movie feeling with a bit of energy. The characters go about everyday activities as they speak, doing their hair, smoking, getting dressed, it gives it a feel of the everyday and makes the characters relatable.

I was watching a video which described the rules of cinematography, how dissolved transitions motivated the change of location or to represent time passing by. How the edited version of life would be presented, for instance a viewer wouldn’t be shown walking up all 1,576 stairs of the Empire State building, instead it would show them arriving, walking through the entrance, perhaps a few shots of them walking/running up the stairs. However French New Wave changed this, they edited it so when the actor walked through a door suddenly there was a jump cut and the character was at the top of the stairs and peering through the door.

This discontinuous editing has also been created in Breathless in the scene when Patricia is in the car ‘I am in love with a girl with a beautiful neck…beautiful knees,’ as Michel speaks there is a jumpshot, it’s a way of depicting the journey without showing them travelling. It’s a very interesting way of doing things, it can come across as slightly erratic and ametuer at the same time. Such as if you were making a documentary, you would have jump shots from the landscape, this is also used in blogging videos, it seems to be the style to do jump shots. For example below is my friend, Patrick Corr’s successful vlog, Patrick uses jump shots, it keeps the viewer engaged, adds drama and interest.

Breathless rattles along at quite a pace, largely due to the jump cuts which eradicate any unnecessary detail and information. Earlier I glanced over the motion in French new wave and it’s something symbolic with this genre. French new wave wanted to create a distinct feel and went against the film techniques of the time which were shots on a tripod, still and professional. Now though the shots were shaky with a hand held feel, shaky and sudden panning, dizzying tracking shots and scenes reminiscent of when someone accidentally forgets to stop recording on the camcorder (I’m sure every home video collection features some of this)

Another technique used involved directing the viewers attention to a specific point in the frame, instead of the conventional use of a close up or perhaps a leading line or even a zoom the new wave created this effect by using a transition. Similar to a vignette the scene would start on the important element before opening out the transition to a wide angle shot. Even freeze frames were used or three shots displayed together.

In conclusion french new wave broke all the rules to create new rules in cinematography. Some class it as legendary some class it too indie for their tastes but whatever the opinion anyone would have to agree that French New wave revolutionised the film process and introduced us to some of the best loved sequences and techniques in the film industry used today.


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