Characteristics of French New Wave Cinema

By JanetB

French New Wave Cinema, called "La Nouvelle Vague" in France, encompassed a group of French film directors primarily during the late 1950s and early 1960s who rejected what they saw as the formalistic conventions of traditional filmmaking and strove toward what they considered a more naturalistic, cinematic technique. Inspired by directors as diverse as Jean Renoir and John Ford, the New Wave directors included such well-known names in cinema as Jean-Luc Godard, Fran├žois Truffaut and Claude Lelouch.

Cinematography and Editing

One notable technique to emerge from the New Wave was the jump cut, in which two discontinuous images are juxtaposed. While jump cuts are regularly used in film and television editing today, at the time, they were very jarring to audiences, who were used to a smooth flow of images onscreen, rather than to editing that calls attention to itself.

Budgetary Restrictions

French New Wave directors usually shot their films on an extremely low budget. Budgetary restrictions often produced many of the characteristics attributed to the New Wave. For instance, since directors had limited equipment available to them, they shot quickly, often with hand-held cameras, resulting in a less-polished, more naturalistic look to their films. In addition, directors often only had one camera available for use, which led to long tracking shots and fluid panning. Budgetary restrictions also often forced them to improvise with their locations and scheduling, and forced them into editing choices now considered to be representative of the New Wave. For instance, if a single, long shot wasn't usable and couldn't be reshot due to budget issues, the director might turn it into a series of jump cuts.

Use of Location

Unlike the controlled studio sound stage and back lot shooting that characterized Hollywood filmmaking during this era, the French New Wave directors were dedicated to shooting in natural locations and using natural lighting as much as possible. Sound was also recorded live on the scene, which was unusual during this era.

Story and Dialogue

In their revolt against what they perceived as Hollywood-style filmmaking, New Wave directors often leaned toward story lines that were open-ended and not tidily wrapped up at the climax. Stories tended to be unpolished and loosely structured. Characters were often eccentric or odd, and usually included a focus on young men dealing with personal chaos. Directors often allowed actors to improvise dialogue and even to make changes in the plot, a technique which was virtually unheard of at the time in Hollywood. During this improvisation, to achieve a natural sense, actors were also encouraged to talk over each other.