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A History of the French New Wave Cinema

Richard Neupert

Publication Year: 2007

The French New Wave cinema is arguably the most fascinating of all film movements, famous for its exuberance, daring, and avant-garde techniques. A History of the French New Wave Cinema offers a fresh look at the social, economic, and aesthetic mechanisms that shaped French film in the 1950s, as well as detailed studies of the most important New Wave movies of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Richard Neupert first tracks the precursors to New Wave cinema, showing how they provided blueprints for those who would follow. He then demonstrates that it was a core group of critics-turned-directors from the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma—especially François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, and Jean-Luc Godard—who really revealed that filmmaking was changing forever. Later, their cohorts Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, and Pierre Kast continued in their own unique ways to expand the range and depth of the New Wave. 

In an exciting new chapter, Neupert explores the subgroup of French film practice known as the Left Bank Group, which included directors such as Alain Resnais and Agnès Varda. With the addition of this new material and an updated conclusion, Neupert presents a comprehensive review of the stunning variety of movies to come out of this important era in filmmaking.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

I have been fortunate to work for two wonderful institutions during the course of this project and owe a great debt to each. At the earliest stages of research, Ken Knoespel and Jay Telotte at Georgia Institute of Technology provided crucial travel funds and access to films. Later, at the University of Georgia, I received valuable support, funding, and advice from Gus Staub ...

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pp. xv-xxix

The French New Wave is one of the most significant film movements in the history of the cinema. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the New Wave rejuvenated France’s already prestigious cinema and energized the international art cinema as well as film criticism and theory, reminding many contemporary observers of Italian neorealism’s impact ...

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1 Cultural Contexts: Where Did the Wave Begin?

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pp. 3-44

THE FRENCH New Wave was much more than a tally of titles or an encyclopedic list of directors. The New Wave was first and foremost a cultural phenomenon, resulting from economic, political, aesthetic, and social trends that developed in the 1950s. Changes in the other arts, including literature and theater, anticipated some of the shifts in cinema, and ...

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2 Testing the Water: Alexandre Astruc, Agn

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pp. 45-72

AMONG THE most important generating mechanisms behind what was to be called the New Wave were three precursors: Alexandre Astruc, Agnès Varda, and Jean-Pierre Melville. Each of these directors contributed in unique ways to the context of experimentation in modes of production and storytelling that helped create the New Wave’s initial ...

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3 New Stories, New Sex: Roger Vadim and Louis Malle

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pp. 73-124

ROGER VADIM was celebrated by the popular French press as yet another harbinger of the growing youth movement and the rejuvenation of the French cinema. His debut film, Et Dieu créa la femme (And God Created Woman, 1956) fed right into the sort of nouvelle vague being discussed by L’Express magazine and other cultural barometers in France. Vadim (b. 1928) lived a colorful life, some of which he embellishes in his chatty ...

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4 Claude Chabrol: Launching a Wave

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pp. 125-160

WITHIN A fifteen-month period, from January 1959 to March 1960, Claude Chabrol premiered four feature films in Paris: Le beau Serge, Les cousins (The Cousins), A double tour, and Les bonnes femmes (The Good Girls). At a time when the French press was full of accounts of a New Wave in the cinema, Chabrol was promoted as the central agent of change. ...

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5 François Truffaut: The New Wave’s Ringleader

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pp. 161-206

THE TWO most universally recognized, iconic images of the New Wave would have to be Jean-Pierre Léaud’s face in a freeze frame at the close of The 400 Blows and Jean-Paul Belmondo sauntering along the Champs Élyseés with Jean Seberg in Breathless. Not only were Truffaut and Godard among the initial core of the Cahiers critics-turned-directors, they have become the New Wave’s most dominant figures historically. ...

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6 Jean-Luc Godard: Le Petit Soldat

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pp. 207-246

GODARD, LIKE Truffaut, was a confident, often brash critic. Even before he began shooting his first feature, he proudly and loudly proclaimed himself a member of the jeune cinéma, taking part in the famous discussion in May 1959 at the La Napoule colloquium outside Cannes, as one of the “seventeen young directors” of the New Wave who discussed the future of ...

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7 The Cahiers du cin

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pp. 247-298

BY 1960, Claude Chabrol, Fran

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8 On the New Wave’s Left Bank: Alain Resnais and Agnès Varda

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pp. 299-354

THE FRIENDS and cohorts of Cahiers du cin

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Conclusion: A Network of Carrier Waves

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pp. 355-363

WHEN I first began this project, my goal was to return in depth to the nouvelle vague, one of the eras in film history that had motivated me to study the cinema in the first place. Rather than rely upon the standard texts as a starting point, however, I took the detour of trying to rediscover how the New Wave presented itself initially to contemporary observers in the late 1950s. ...


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pp. 367-382


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pp. 383-394


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pp. 395-408

E-ISBN-13: 9780299217037
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299217044

Publication Year: 2007