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Jean-Luc Godard and the French New Wave

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Jean-Luc Godard and the French New Wave

Jean-Luc Godard and the French New Wave

“Since 1945, French films have risen to world dominance and faltered to a point where they now need government protection to compete against Hollywood. At their best, French filmmakers have established cinemaverite, mastered literary film making and film noir, invented new wave, flirted with thrillers, and produced such unique and unclassifiable geniuses as Truffaut and Tati.” Melissa Biggs makes this statement in the introduction to her book, French Films 1945-1993. This is a very true statement. The French have done many things to contribute to the world of cinema, but what will always be remembered by most is the new wave.

The new wave came along at a time where France was a nation of big studios, much like America. The studios would churn out well-crafted quality films to a public that, for the most part, enjoyed them. It was business like any other business. The government and various unions controlled the studios, and it was very difficult to get into these unions. The men and women responsible for these films were very much on the outside of this large business. They began to make films that were radically different from those of the big studios and audiences loved them. The new wave became a very successful movement not just in France, but also all over the world. And they were the underdogs, the people that didn’t have a lot of money (sometimes) or resources, but made films anyway.

These people were film critics and film lovers and many of them have made their mark or achieved their own style. That is what made the new wave so important, the idea of the auteur. There were one hundred new directors making films in France in the early ‘60’s. Which meant

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that there were a lot of individual voices that blended together and others that stood above the rest, the outsiders. Melissa Biggs mentions Francois Truffaut and sights him as being a genius of the time period; others might say Renais or Rohmer. Each director had a fairly significant style that was his/her own. There is one filmmaker of this time period that really stood out among the rest, the ultimate outsider as it were. Every film of his is consciously his own more so than Truffaut, Renais, or Rohmer. This person is Jean-Luc Godard.

The elements that make Godard such a provocative and thoughtful director is a lengthy, complicated, and detailed list of various filming techniques, in production and post production, sociology, philosophy, spontaneity, etc. However, Godard’s utilization of the film’s setting and ambiance are what really make his films what they are.

Godard uses his settings much different than any other director working at the time. This might seem to be an odd statement because the majority of these New Wave films are set in a 1960’s Paris, but Godard’s Paris is a very different kind of Paris than that of Truffaut, Renais, or Rohmer. He doesn’t just shoot the film in Paris. He creates a world in which the audience can experience in the lives of the characters in a very personal, but always detached way. Richard Roud writes in his book Jean Luc Godard, “His City is Paris, and it is the Paris of hotel rooms, chambres de bonnes, and, above all, cafйs, with their pin-ball machines and the endless conversations nursing the lait chaud against the inevitable moment when one has to go out on the streets or back to the dreary hotel room.” He has the ability to produce a setting of desolation and then shortly after create an appealing world full of life. However, most of the time the first will be more likely to be represented. He shows the suburbs of Paris as vacant and lifeless in Band of Outsiders, but will later show a vibrant scene in the famous dance sequence in the cafй.

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His characters are detached from the setting. Essentially every one of his films could be dubbed the previously mentioned title. They are loners who don’t have homes, families, or any sort of stability in their lives. They are removed from society, the society is removed from them, and the audience is brought into the film and periodically removed from it. There is a lot of detachment happening within Godard’s films and a lot of it has to do with the setting.

If one were to look at the beginnings of the films The 400 Blows by Truffaut and Band of Outsiders by Godard one can clearly see the difference. Both films begin with shots of Paris streets (minus the quick cutting of the three main characters that runs under the title credit of Band of Outsiders). In Truffaut’s film the audience has the point of view shot of the person riding in the car, which we never see, but in Godard’s film the audience rides in the back seat of the main characters car, at about a medium close-up,

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