Le Nouvelle Vague

November 8, 2007

So there’s these bratty French kids that grow up to be bratty French young adults, but they love Le Cinema, they watch everything they can, and they particularly like all this low budget neo-realism stuff coming from Italy.  They also admire certain American directors like Orson Welles and John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.  Somehow this group of bratty abandoned youth all get jobs writing for this new magazine called Les Cahiers du Cinema (“the cinema papers”).  They used their status as writers and critics to complain about all the garbage that French filmmakers were churning out.  One in particular, Francois Truffaut, wrote an essay called “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema” where he complained about Le Cinema du Papa (“the father’s cinema”) and how all the movies were overblown historical epics with no real personality or vision, just calculated to make a lot of money.  He wanted to see more personal films like those of Welles, Hitchcock, De Sica, Bergman, and Fellini, who he considered to be “Auteurs”.

According to Truffaut’s auteur (that’s french for “author”) theory, certain directors are the authors, the main creative force behind their work.  Auteurs have a personal vision, often write their own scripts, have creative control over the whole project, and have a unique style.  Hired directors, on the other hand, have a conformed vision, are hired after the script is already written, only partial control over the project (the producer can dictate changes), and have a generic style.  Granted, there are some problems with this theory.  What about Tim Burton.  Unique style, sure, but doesn’t write his own scripts, and while he was fresh and inventive in his earlier years, has tended to keep doing the same thing over and over.  Or what about Stephen Soderberg?  He doesn’t necessarily have a set “style.”  Every film of his is different, not all are great, but he’s always trying new things and taking chances.

Anyway, in 1959, Truffaut and a few of his writer friends took matters into their own hands and started making films themselves.  This started what is now known as Le Nouvelle Vague, or the French New Wave.

First, you’ll want to check out this little documentary made by some french student.  Not the best edited thing, but pretty informative.



November 5, 2007

Download the worksheet here: Neorealism handout

Way back during the first week of class we talked about the three main types of filmmaking: Realism, Classicism, and Formalism. Now, thinking of everything we’ve seen since then, where would you classify them? Pretty much everything was along the lines of classicism, with the occaisional foray into formalism. Maybe The Grapes of Wrath is on the realism side, but that was the rare exception for Hollywood.

But after World War II things started to change. Before the war, Italy was one of the most prolific and influential filmmaking countries. They specialized in huge budget epic films, with giant sets and thousands of actors. But during the war, Italy was occupied by the Germans, then the Americans, and was pretty much torn up by all the fighting. After the war, there weren’t any usable studios, the big name actors had all left, and there was very little money for film equipment. So the filmmakers took to the streets and made simple stories about the struggles of everyday people. This movement later on became known as Neo-realism.


Here’s two chapters from Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Italian Cinema called “My Voyage to Italy.”

Voyage to Italy1

Voyage to Italy2

As you can see, these early Italian films had a huge impact on Scorsese, both as a person and a filmmaker. When Roberto Rosselini’s film Rome, Open City came out in 1945, it opened the eyes of a lot of potential filmmakers. They realized that to make a film you didn’t need a huge budget and special effects and big name actors. You could make stories about your own life experiences with very little money.

Here’s a few more examples:

The Bicycle Thief

Children of Heaven

Not One Less

Nobody Knows 



Some characteristics of Neo-realism:


  1. Set in the Present (or near-past). This means that in Italy in 1945-49 there were a lot of films that took place during or right after WWII.
  2. Non-professional actors. They used regular people that hadn’t acted in film before.
  3. Shot on already existing locations. No studios or sets.
  4. Stories about everyday situations and people, the kinds of things most people at the time could relate to.
  5. Often bleak, somewhat pessimistic, dealing with hardship and poverty.
  6. Open endings. Not a tragedy where everyone dies. Not a “happy ending” where they achieve their goals. But a frustating ending where we don’t know what’s going to happen.