The French New Wave

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The French New Wave

In 1959- early 1960 five directors released debut feature length films that are widely regarded as heralding the start of the French nouvelle vague or French New Wave. Claude Chabrols Le Beau Serge (The Good Serge, 1959) and Les Cousins (The Cousins, 1959) were released, along with Francois Truffauts Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959), Jean-Luc Godards A bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960) and Alain Resnais Hiroshima mon amour (Hiroshima my love, 1959). These films were the beginning of a revolution in French cinema. In the following years these directors were to follow up their debuts, while other young directors made their first features, in fact between 1959-63 over 170 French directors made their debut films. These films were very different to anything French and American cinema had ever produced both in film style and film form and would change the shape of cinema to come for years. To understand how and why this nouvelle vague happened we must first look at the historical, social, economical and political aspects of France and the French film industry leading up to the onset of the nouvelle vague.

After the Second World War much of Europe was in ruins. 35 million people had died and most European countries were hugely in debt. 1947s Marshall plan saw billions of American dollars poured into Europe in the form of aid to help Europe rebuild. Along with this vast amount of aid came American expectations of political allegiance. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was born, a military alliance which committed members to oppose the USSR and Communism. This American influence extended into many aspects of society, including the Film industry. During the war years the flow of films from Hollywood into Europe had been drastically reduced. After the war the Americans were keen to expand again into Europe. The Motion Picture Export Association of America was formed. Hollywood formed this organisation to co-ordinate exports and to present a united front to negotiate prices for the different Hollywood firms. The US government, seeing American film as an important propaganda tool for American democracy, helped the film industry through Commerce Department initiatives and diplomatic pressures. In the years immediately after the war Hollywood made great inroads into European Cinema not least in France.

In Ma...

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...ecettes (advance on receipts) system. This initiative funded first time film makers on the basis of a script and enabled hundreds of potential film makers to finance their debut features. These factors combined together to form the climate for production that prevailed in the late 50s but to understand why the nouvelle vague was so embraced by the public we must look at the actual term nouvelle vague. The term nouvelle vague was actually coined by a journalist named Franois Giroud to describe the new and socially active youth class. The idealisms and politics of the post war years like sexual liberation, along with new fashions and American influences like Rock Music and Hollywood combined together to create what has become known as youth culture. It was this new and affluent youth class that created a new market with leisure time and money to spend that so embraced this revolution in Film. It was also in this climate that this new generation of directors emerged from to fill the spaces of the old and out dated. They had an empathy with their audience which is demonstrated by the fact that the term nouvelle vague was so quickly attributed to this movement in film style and form.

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