In the 1950s, a cadre of critics associated with the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma decided that their ideas about movies as an art form were strong enough to put into practice, so they began making films of their own. They sought to reinvigorate the national cinema with renewed attention to realism, sincerity, excitement, and philosophy. The style that emerged was a chaotic swirl of influences, from the street-level immediacy of Italian Neorealism and the nascent cinéma vérité movement to the thrilling artifice of Hollywood genre films, particularly gangster movies and musicals. These writers proved their own theories about movie auteurs by becoming auteurs themselves, shining a light on a new, extremely personal type of filmmaking. In the following decades, their influence spread worldwide, from Hollywood to Hong Kong. This movement is known as La Nouvelle Vague — the French New Wave.
From November 1 to December 2 of this year, I will be watching the films of the French New Wave in chronological order.
I’ve used the terms “marathon” and “mega-marathon” to describe these exercises in the past, but those words suggest the image of gluing oneself to the couch and watching everything back-to-back over the weekend, whereas I politely watch one movie a night and then go to sleep. Instead, what I’m doing is a month-long retrospective, screening films systematically to get an impression of an entire body of work, like an arthouse or repertory theater might do. First was Disney animation, then Steven Spielberg’s films, and now the films of the French New Wave.
I say “an entire body of work,” but in this case that’s not quite possible. A new wave doesn’t have a firmly established canon. There will always be a core set of filmmakers and a core set of films made over a limited period of time that represent the heart of the movement, but stylistic similarities can be far-reaching. I settled on nine directors and thirty-two films released between the years 1958 and 1964. Here’s the breakdown: Claude Chabrol (8 films), Jean-Luc Godard (8), François Truffaut (4), Jacques Demy (3), Alain Resnais (3), Henri Colpi (2), Éric Rohmer (2), Jacques Rivette (1), Agnès Varda (1). This selection is somewhat arbitrary, to be sure, and I’ll probably manage to both skim the surface and venture far afield at the same time. But this is the most comprehensive study of a specific time and place in film history that I’ve ever attempted.
Preparing this retrospective marked my first real brush with the concept of scarcity when it comes to home video releases. Up to now, I’ve been content with what’s widely available, but here’s a heads-up: if you get a yen to watch a French movie from 1962, you might not be able to find it…anywhere. I resorted to purchasing and converting a few Region 2 discs, but one film eluded me completely: Claude Chabrol’s L’Œil du malin. So this retrospective is decidedly incomplete, but of course it would be anyway. The important thing is that I’m stretching myself way beyond what Netflix has to offer. (Never mind Netflix streaming; a lot of these movies aren’t available on Netflix discs!)
Le Beau Serge (Handsome Serge) — Chabrol, 1958
Les Cousins (The Cousins) — Chabrol, 1959
Les quatres cents coups (The 400 Blows) — Truffaut, 1959
Hiroshima Mon Amour (Hiroshima My Love) — Resnais, 1959
À double tour (Web of Passion) — Chabrol, 1959
À bout de souffle (Breathless) — Godard, 1960
Les Bonnes Femmes (The Good Time Girls) — Chabrol, 1960
Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) — Truffaut, 1960
Lola — Demy, 1961
Les Godelureaux (Wise Guys) — Chabrol, 1961
Une aussi longue absence (The Long Absence) — Colpi, 1961
L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) — Resnais, 1961
Une femme est une femme (A Woman Is a Woman) — Godard, 1961
Paris nous appartient (Paris Belongs to Us) — Rivette, 1961
Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim) — Truffaut, 1962
Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7) — Varda, 1962
Le Signe du lion (The Sign of Leo) — Rohmer, 1962
Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live) — Godard, 1962
Landru (Bluebeard) — Chabrol, 1963
Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier) — Godard, 1963
Ophelia — Chabrol, 1963
La Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) — Demy, 1963
Codine — Colpi, 1963
Les Carabiniers (The Carabineers) — Godard, 1963
Muriel ou le Temps d’un retour (Muriel, or The Time of Return) — Resnais, 1963
Le mépris (Contempt) — Godard, 1963
La carrière de Suzanne (Suzanne’s Career) — Rohmer, 1963
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) — Demy, 1964
La peau douce (The Soft Skin) — Truffaut, 1964
Bande à part (Band of Outsiders) — Godard, 1964
Le Tigre aime la chair fraîche (Code Name: Tiger) — Chabrol, 1964
Une femme mariée (A Married Woman) — Godard, 1964
This blog will be on semi-hiatus throughout November. There might be a couple posts of Letterboxd reviews for these films, and I will try to squeeze in a “My Favorite Movies” post. But October’s “Double Feature” will be the last of the year, and as such I have something special planned for it. December will see a French New Wave recap and some of my usual year-end festivities. There’s a lot to look forward to heading into the holiday season.