New Wave Basics

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Nothing looks quite like French New Wave cinema: bold, beautiful and incredibly cool. This was a time of experimentation. Following the death of Jeanne Moreau on Monday, one of the school’s finest stars, here’s an introduction to the cinema we know her for.

Jules et Jim

François Truffaut was one of the founding filmmakers of the French New Wave and his debut feature Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) remains critically acclaimed. But his 1962 film Jules et Jim, starring Jeanne Moreau, is and was just as important thanks to its imaginative approach to cinema - it uses newsreels, voiceover, freeze frames, to name a few.  In it Moreau is Catherine, a woman who looks exactly like a beautiful statue beloved by friends Jules et Jim, and when all three meet, the effect she has on their lives is transformative.

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A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) 

Whether you’ve seen it or not, Breathless is probably part of your cultural lexicon. But New York Herald Tribune T-shirts, Jean Seberg’s hair and bad romantic choices in the shape of Jean-Paul Belmondo only scratch the surface. It broke ground (and heavily influenced the New Wave) in 1960 for its unconventional love story between an American in Paris and a reckless Frenchman, so totally oblivious to authority it makes him all the more compelling. Filmed fast and cheap, it cemented Jean-Luc Godard’s place as a cinematic auteur.

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Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7)

Director Agnès Varda was part of the Left Bank – a New Wave offshoot of creatives who made similarly modernist films but with a more artistic bent. 1962’s Cleo from 5 to 7 follows a singer (Corinne Marchand) who is waiting find out the results of a test that may show she has cancer. What would be simple – Cleo wending her way through the city, meeting old confrères and new friends – instead powerfully captures ideas of feminism, existentialism and the constant threat of death. And still, it’s beautiful.

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Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Lift to the Scaffold)

Whether Lift to the Scaffold is a New Wave film or not is still debated. It was released in 1958 (earlier than the rest) by Louis Malle (who had nothing to do with Godard, Truffaut and the Cahiers du Cinéma gang), but the crime drama is similar to their work in that it is relentlessly modern and resourceful in its making. The story follows a worker (Maurice Ronet) who gets caught up in a murder he didn’t commit after staging what would have been the perfect crime elsewhere. It’s also one of Jeanne Moreau’s greatest hits.

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Hiroshima, mon Amour

Like Varda, Alain Resnais was linked to the Left Bank, too, and his filming methods in 1959’s Hiroshima, mon Amour have been hailed as some of the most influential in cinema ever, because they were peerless at the time. There’s no straight narrative; instead the crux of the film – a conversation between a French woman (Emmanuelle Riva) and her Japanese lover in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing – plays out like a memory, repetitive and nonlinear.

Source: Emerald Street