10 Essential French Directors of the New Wave

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When the tropes and conventions of post-war cinema became stale and uninspired, groundbreaking films were rare. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a generation of French art house directors came to revolutionize cinema. The movement was introduced in 1954 as a manifesto style essay by François Truffaut, A certain trend in French cinemawhich denounced the lack of imagination and innovation of contemporary films.

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Along with such pivotal directors as Jean-Luc Godard and Agnès Varda, Truffaut pioneered the French New Wave, whose experimental cinematic styles would change cinema forever.

ten Francois Truffaut


A young boy locked behind bars

The French New Wave movement originated in a 1954 essay by François Truffaut, titled A certain trend in French cinemain which Truffaut complained that contemporary filmmakers were playing it safe with painfully conventional material.

Five years later, Truffaut steps behind the camera and makes his directorial debut with the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age gem. The 400 blows, one of the first masterpieces that defined the principles of the French New Wave. Truffaut went on to conduct classics such as day to night and Jules and Jimand conducted a series of seminal interviews with Alfred Hitchcock.

9 Jacques Rivette


A man and a woman kiss on a balcony in L'amour fou

Like many of his colleagues from the French New Wave, Jacques Rivette wrote for the film magazine Cinema Notebooks before starting to make his own films. Rivette’s most famous works include Crazy Love, The Beautiful Noiseuseand Céline and Julie go boating.

Rivette is known for telling his stories with a refreshing flexibility, allowing his actors to improvise much of their dialogue and letting his running times stretch long.


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8 Agnes Varda


Corinne Marchand posing in Cléo from 5 to 7.

According to Hollywood journalist, Martin Scorsese hailed Agnès Varda as “one of the gods of cinema”. Varda belongs to the “left bank” of directors of the French New Wave. While the “right bank” filmmakers are more concerned with genre and homage, the “left bank” directors strive for a cinematographic literature.

Varda is known for achieving a documentary-like realism in her approach to humanistic stories tackling taboo subjects (usually women’s issues). His most acclaimed films include Cleo from 5 to 7about a young singer’s 90-minute wait for medical test results, and Kung Fu Masterabout a 40-something single mother’s affair with a 14-year-old player.


7 Jacques Demy


Another member of the “left bank” group, Jacques Demy drew inspiration from all sorts of sources: jazz, fairy tales, Japanese manga, operas, classic Hollywood musicals.

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Demy’s work explores universally resonant ideas like first love and the meeting point between dreams and reality. His two best-known films are 1960s musicals: Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort.


6 Jean Pierre Melville


The Red Circle

Often referred to as the spiritual father of the French New Wave, Jean-Pierre Melville gave the American detective film a sleek but minimalist Parisian makeover with influential thrillers like The Doulos, the Samuraiand The Red Circle. Its influence can be seen in everything from reservoir dogs for John Wick.

His thriller docudrama army of shadows is one of the greatest WWII movies ever made, but it was hurt by bad timing. As a story of the French Resistance, the film inherently glorifies Charles de Gaulle, who failed to impress French critics after May 68.


5 Eric Rohmer


Pauline and Sylvain at the beach in Pauline at the Beach

The former editor of the film journal Cinema notebooks, Éric Rohmer is the last of the great French New Wave filmmakers to establish his career. Rohmer’s spontaneous, naturalistic cinematic style is best exemplified in his revered Comedies and Proverbs series.

While the careers of many of his French New Wave peers lacked longevity, Rohmer was notable for continuing to draw crowds to his films decades after the movement’s heyday.


4 Alain Resnais


A wide shot of the French film Last Year in Marienbad

Although Alain Resnais does not consider himself part of the French New Wave movement, he is often included as a key member in the “left bank” category.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Resnais’ unconventional narrative structure Hiroshima my love, Last year in Marienbadand Murielle helped lay the groundwork for the bold narrative experimentation of the French New Wave.




3 Claude Chabrol


Another former spokesperson for Cinema notebooks, Claude Chabrol made a name for himself as the French New Wave’s answer to Hitchcock. Like Hitchcock, Chabrol’s thrillers are characterized by his use of the camera as an omniscient and unbiased observer.

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His 1958 hit The Handsome Serge was heavily influenced by the Hitchcockian gem shadow of a doubt and launched a hit thriller series for Chabrol that included The Hinds, The unfaithful wifeand The butcher.


2 Chris Marker


Chris Marker did not limit his visual experiments to traditional cinema. He was also a photographer, documentary filmmaker and multimedia artist. Considered ahead of his time, Marker entered the “left bank” with films like A smile without a cat and Without sun.

Marker’s most famous film is from 1962 The Pierthe breathtaking 28-minute sci-fi thriller that served as the basis for 12 monkeys.


1 Jean-Luc Godard


Jean Seberg kissing Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless

While Truffaut defined the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard made the movement a widespread sensation with his radical 1960 debut feature. Breathless. Godard took all the hallmarks of a classic American noir and turned them on their head with a delightfully subversive romantic thriller. He challenged previously unquestioned truths of cinema, such as the need for conventional continuity.

Godard explored a colorful musical romance in A woman is a womandystopian sci-fi in Alphavilleblack comedy in Weekendand later revisited his awareness of the crime genre in Keeping to himself.

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