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

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The Tide Turns

Adieu Philippine [1962]
In December 1962, Cahiers du Cinéma published a special issue on the “New Wave,” which included long interviews with Truffaut, Godard and Chabrol, and a list of 162 new French directors. Among the first time directors discussed were Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (L’eau a la Bouche (1960)), Pierre Kast (Le Bel Age (1960)), Luc Moullet (Un Steack Trop Cuit (1960)), Jean-Daniel Pollet (La Ligne de Mire (1960)), Jean-Pierre Mocky (Les Dragueurs (1960)), and Jacques Rozier (Adieu Philippine (1962)). The success of the early New Wave had opened the gates for a generation of unknown directors to break through into what had previously been a very closed industry. Films were now being made by young people, for young people, and starring young people.

Inevitably, there was a media backlash. The failure at the box office of Tirez Sur Le Pianiste, Une Femmes est une Femmes and other high profile releases gave the press ammunition to attack the movement. They reproached the young directors of the New Wave for making films that were “intellectual and boring.” At the same time the old guard believed it was making a comeback with a string of successful films beginning with Rue des Prairies (1960), starring Jean Gabin.

There was dissent too at Cahiers du Cinéma. Most of its leading writers were now directors and no longer had the time to devote to writing for the magazine. As a result, by the early 60’s, a second generation of young cinephiles had replaced the first group. This new group did not always share the same opinions as its predecessors, leading to clashes with editor-in-chief, Eric Rohmer.

Supported by the new writers, Jacques Rivette took over as editor, and the sense of community at the review fractured. The production of the New Wave group film Paris Vu Par (1964) – a series of sketches by different directors – signalled the change. Rivette, and Truffaut who had supported him, were symbolically excluded from contributing. The split had begun. Each of the filmmakers associated with Cahiers now went their own, increasingly divergent, ways.

"The Cinema is truth 24 times a second." - Jean-Luc Godard

Anna Karina in Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live) [1962]
By the mid-60’s Jean-Luc Godard was probably the most discussed director in the world. The films came in rapid succession, each one a further step towards a personal reinvention of cinema. After A Bout de Souffle, came a political thriller, Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier) (1961), a technicolour wide screen musical, Une Femme Est Une Femme (A Woman is a Woman) (1961), a social drama about prostitution, Vivre Sa Vie (One Life to Live) (1962), and a war film, Les Carabiniers (The Soldiers) (1963).

These early films had made a star out of Belgian-French actress Anna Karina, whom Godard had married in 1961. With his next film, Le Mépris (Contempt) (1963), he reinvented Brigitte Bardot’s public image, giving her the chance to prove she could act. The film - a story about the breakup of a relationship set against the pressures of commercial filmmaking - became Godard’s biggest box office success, ensuring continued financial backing for his prolific output.

In the following years, Godard continued to make films that established him as the definitive New Wave director. After the lush Mediterranean scenery of Le Mepris, he went back to the streets of Paris, showing a gritty view of the city in crime caper Bande A Part (Band of Outlaws) (1964), and an alternative view in the dystopian sci-fi feature Alphaville (1965).

Weekend [1967]
Next came a road trip to the South of France for the brilliant Pierrot Le Fou (1965). Pairing Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina and abounding with ideas and references to both high and low culture (it even features a cameo from B movie maestro Sam Fuller), the film was a culmination of all the director’s radical filmmaking techniques up to that point.

Godard’s political views became increasingly central from now on. Masculin, Feminin (1966), was a study of contemporary French youth and their involvement with cultural politics. An intertitle refers to the characters as “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” Next came Made in the U.S.A (1966), a playful crime story inspired by Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep (1945).2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle (Two or Three Things I Know About Her) (1967), starred Marina Vlady as a woman leading a double life as housewife and prostitute. Le Chinoise (1967) focused on a group of students engaged with the ideas coming out of the student-activist groups in contemporary France.

Later that year, Godard made a more colourful political film. Weekend (1967) follows a Parisian couple as they go on a trip across the French countryside to collect an inheritance. What ensues is a darkly comic, sometimes horrific, confrontation with the tragic flaws of the bourgeoisie. Weekend’s enigmatic closing title sequence concludes with the words “End of Cinema,” a declaration which signalled an end to the first period in Godard’s filmmaking career.

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