All About the French New Wave (compiled from the work of Simon Hitchman) 1940 1944: The Occupation

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The Left Bank Group

The Left Bank Group, from left: Alain Resnais, Agnes Varda, and Jacques Demy (holding camera, front right)
In the early 1960s, critic Richard Roud attempted to draw a distinction between the directors allied with the influential journal Cahiers du Cinéma and what he dubbed the “Left Bank” group. This latter group embraced a loose association of writers and filmmakers that consisted principally of the directors Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Agnes Varda. They had in common a background in documentary, a left-wing political orientation, and an interest in artistic experimentation.

L'Annee Derniere A Marienbad (Last Year At Marienbad) [1961] .
Another associate of the group was the Nouveau-Roman novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet. In 1961 he collaborated with Alain Resnais on L’Annee Derniere A Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad). The film’s dream-like visuals and experimental narrative structure, in which truth and fiction are difficult to distinguish, divided audiences, with some hailing it as a masterpiece, and others finding it incomprehensible. Despite the critical disagreements, the film won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Film Festival, and its surreal imagery has become an iconic part of film history.

Chris Marker began making documentaries in the early 50’s, collaborating with his friend Alain Resnais on Les Statues Meurent Aussi (1950-53), which begins as a simple film about African art and gradually changes into an anti-colonialist polemic. Over the following years he developed a unique essay style of documentary filmmaking. His one fictional film, La Jetee (1962), a science fiction story about a time traveller, composed almost completely of still photographs, has become a classic in its own right.

Agnes Varda is the most celebrated female director to be associated with the New Wave. She began as a photographer, then turned to the cinema and directed La Pointe Courte (1954), a low-budget, documentary-like feature film about the dissolution of a marriage which, in its production method and style, presaged the coming New Wave. Over the following years, she made a number of shorts and documentaries, before directing Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962). This real-time portrait of a singer set adrift in the city as she awaits the results of a life or death medical report became one of the benchmarks of the Nouvelle-Vague movement.

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