New Wave Cinema

Historical Context of the French New Wave Cinema:

Journalist Françoise Giroud, coined the term “French New Wave” in a magazine article he wrote to describe the young filmmakers emerging in the late 1950s and 1960s. In post-war France, the cinema proved to play a vital role in the revival of culture and new forms of expression, especially after the long and isolating oppression of the German occupation during WWII (occupation: 1940-1944).

h.pngDuring the war, Paris was not only forced into seclusion and darkness due to propaganda, regulations, censorship, and curfews but was literally left in the dark when the occupying German forces imposed a blackout—demanding that all the lights in the city be turned off. With the occupation reaching unbearable extremes, the only relief the French citizens could find was the cinema. Too add to the lack of choice and sense of loss, the films they were allowed to see were severely limited. American films were banned and French films were banned, apart from about 200—which of course had to be approved by censorship regulations—so they were basically restricted to watching German productions, which were primarily reproductions of Hollywood musical comedies and melodramatic propaganda movies.

From this experience of loss came a great value for freedom of expression and truth of representation. Although the
motivation for the French New Wave was partly due to the horror and misery of war, it thrived due to the continuing growth of
innovations, inventions such as the color film, and the gradual return to wealth and prosperity.

With the end of WWII, not only was the country changed but the people were too. The New Wave directors that surfaced at
this time were not interested in going back to making mainstream or costly films (nor could they due to the depletion of wealth
in France after the war), but were focused on getting in touch with the altered lives of the post-war French youth by channeling
the lessons and experiences of the war and using film to express life, thought and emotion in a more realistic and imperfect

New Wave Cinema Techniques

  • Jump Cuts - These are an editing technique that cuts from one scene to the next at an unexpected moment and then back again. These cuts are generally used to disorient the audience are call to attention the fact that you (the viewer), is watching a film. This is different than the traditional process of enveloping the audience in the plot of the film and making them forget they are watching a screen.

  • Improvised Filmmaking - New Wave Cinema saw a decline in the use of full-scale sets tailored specifically to the film. Instead, directors often shot scenes in locations as they see fit. There were almost no restrictions on the director when deciding when, where, and how they want to shoot their film. Despite this lack of attention to detail, this style of improvisation gave films a more personal feeling that lent itself to expressing the thoughts of the director more clearly. Often times we can catch glimpses of people not affiliated with the film openly appearing in the camera’s field of view.

  • Natural Sound - Just like how New Wave Cinema rejected artificial sets and scenery, artificial sound was also often discouraged. Emphasis was put on the use of natural sounds effects and sound tracks. Unaltered sound, even if this meant the inclusion of mistakes, was used to make the film seem less fake like traditional productions. Again, this added a new and fresh style which New Wave Cinema became known for.

Spotlight on French New Wave Director Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard (Photo credit:
Jean-Luc Godard (Photo credit:

  • December 3, 1930 in Paris, France
  • Born into a Franco-Swiss family

  • Nyon, Switzerland
  • Lycée Rohmer, Paris
  • University of Paris, Sorbonne

Occupations: film director, screenwriter, actor, film critic

Brief Biography: Due to the outbreak of WWII, his parents sent the young Godard to school in Nyon, Switzerland. After studying in Nyon, Godard returned to the Sorbonne in 1948 and was immersed in the artistic culture of the Latin Quarter of Paris, including Paris ciné-clubs. Godard went to these clubs where he met several artists who would prove very integral to the creation of the New Wave, the most important of whom being André Bazin.

He also came into contact with artists such as Claude Chabrol, Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette, and, along with Bizet, they started Cahiers du Cinéma, a French film magazine where they discussed their unconventional views and ideas toward cinema.

Godard became enamored with film, so much so that it estranged him from his family, who stopped funding his affairs. In desperate need of money to support his desire to go farther with his love of film, Godard turned to petty theft and menial jobs. He began a job working on a Swiss dam, and, eager to put his theories into practice, filmed a documentary on the dam project. The construction firm was so impressed by his documentary that they bought it, and this documentary was considered Godard’s first success.

A bout de souffle (Breathless, 1959) (Photo credit:
A bout de souffle (Breathless, 1959) (Photo credit:
In 1959, Godard released his first feature film, A bout de souffle(Breathless). The idea for the film came from his Sorbonne friend Truffaut, and Chabrol acted as artistic supervisor for the film. The film was “spontaneous, vibrant, and groundbreakingly original,” also causing a rebirth of the B-feature crime plot (BFI). Innovative cinematic techniques, including hand-held camerawork and natural lighting, added to the film’s novelty and positive response from the filmic world.

After his whirlwind starting success, Godard’s work and personal life took a turn. He released Week-end in 1967, a film featuring a ten-minute tracking shot of an atrocious traffic jam, which turned out to be a metaphor for his declining personal life. He cut ties with former film-partner Truffaut, as well as many other colleagues, and obtained a “reputation for being a bitter and reclusive figure” (BFI).

An anecdote in the New Yorker finds Godard joking about his reputation, even saying that he cut out a newspaper cartoon featuring “a unicorn in a suit… sitting at a desk and talking on the phone with a caption reading ‘These rumours of my non-existence are making it very difficult for me to obtain financing’" (BFI).

A list of artists claiming influence from Godard:
Quentin Tarantino
Martin Scorsese
Steven Soderbergh
Gregg Araki
Arthur Penn
John Woo
Richard Linklater
Mike Figgis
Robert Altman
Richard Lester
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Brian De Palma
Oliver Stone
Godard in 2010, still smoking (Photo credit: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)
Godard in 2010, still smoking (Photo credit: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

Quotes by Godard:

All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.

A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.

I write essays in the form of novels, or novels in the form of essays. I'm still as much of a critic as I ever was during the time of 'Cahiers du Cinema.' The only difference is that instead of writing criticism, I now film it.

In a house there is the top floor and there is the cellar. The underground filmmakers live in the same house as Hollywood, but they work in the cellar. It's up to them if they like to live in the dark. The Hollywood filmmakers are more intelligent, because they have that sunny top floor.

Tracking shots are a question of morality.

You don't make a movie, the movie makes you.

Prénom Carmen, 1983


(English: First Name: Carmen) was directed by French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard. It is an adaptation of Georges Bizet’s opera //Carmen//.

The film’s storyline and characters loosely follow that of Bizet’s opera, with the protagonist Carmen X falling into the role of the femme fatale, although this time as a seductive female terrorist instead of a seductive Gypsy. Carmen and her terrorist gang plan to rob a bank, where she falls in love and strings along a security guard who takes on the role of Don Jose.

Godard inserts himself into the film as Carmen’s uncle, a failed film director. The film uses French New Wave techniques such as jump cuts between scenes of the bank robbery, the uncle’s efforts to create a comeback film, and a string quartet playing Beethoven. The film is also known for its use of natural sound and extensive nudity.

Godard’s use of natural sound as a New Wave Cinema technique is most noticeable in his incorporation of the sounds of the sea. Numerous shots of the ocean are interspersed throughout the film, accompanied with the noise of seagulls and waves crashing. These sounds often carry over into other scenes and even cover up dialogue between characters. This overlapping occurs explicitly when Carmen and Joseph are getting to know one another while hiding out in Uncle Jean’s apartment. Seeing as filmmakers of this genre were in opposition to using artificial sound, at times when the clamor of waves take precedence over the characters' dialogue, Godard may be hinting at the artificiality of language and human communication.

Prénom Carmen won the Golden Lion (French: Il Leone d’Oro) film award at the 1983 Venice Film Festival.

Interesting/Key Points to Consider While Watching:
  • Remain cognizant of how often you as the audience feel out of place or disconnected from the plot. If this happens often, you're doing it right!
  • Pay attention (this should be obvious) to the use of jump cuts between scenes, specifically at time when slow, dramatic scenes are juxtaposed with shots full of action
  • Focus on when jump cuts show the same scene twice but from different angles. (When Carmen tackles Joseph then proceeds to flip her hair). What could Godard be trying to focus on?
  • Listen for instances of natural sound. For example, during the epic gun fight near the end of film, listen for a female voice utter a random comment about a door. Mistake, intentional, or unimportant?


Lady Gaga vs. French New Wave (YouTube)
The Influence of the French New Wave Cinema on American Cinema (YouTube)

Genre-Defining Films: (links to


Coates, Kristen. “[The Classroom] French New Wave: The Influencing of the Influencers.” The Film Stage. 28 May 2010. Web. 25 May 2011. <>.

Hitchman, Simon. “The Nouvelle Vague: Where To Start.” French New Wave Film Guide. 2008. Web. 25 May 2011. <>.

Hitchman, Simon. “A History Of French New Wave Cinema.” French New Wave Film Guide. 2008. Web. 25 May 2011. <>.

"New Wave Film Guide: Nouvelle Vague & International New Wave Cinema - Where to Start." French New Wave Guide. Web. 27 May 2011. <>.