A Brief History of the French New Wave

February 17

Inflight Dublin prides itself on providing the best International titles to our clients, from the French New Wave and beyond. If you’d like to learn more, contact us at mail@inflightdublin.com.


What is the French New Wave?

The French New Wave, or Nouvelle Vague, was a film movement that originated in the late 1950s in (you guessed it) France.


Of the opinion that post-war cinema was dated and out of touch, a group of filmmakers and critics, influenced by Italian Neorealism, and Hollywood directors like Hitchcock and Welles, proposed a new vision.

Through a series of essays, they laid out their manifesto in the influential journal, Cahiers du Cinema.

Arguing for auteur theory (which meant that the director was the “author” of their work, and solely in control of it), experimentation through technique, and the value of film as an art form, these revolutionary critiques became the foundations of the entire movement.

Notable Directors

Generally speaking, the directors were part of one of two collectives: Cahiers Du Cinema, or the Left Bank.

The former, which included Claude Chabrol, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette, produced several outstanding films that, for many, define the New Wave.

A collection of documentarians and writers, the Left Bank were less associated with the medium than the cinéastes of Cahiers.

However, this looser relationship, combined with a cross-disciplined approach, would lead to some of the era’s most unique films.

Some names you might recognise from this group include Agnès Varda, Chris Marker, and Alain Resnais.

Key Characteristics

These directors used techniques that, although commonplace now, were bold, new, and experimental at the time.

Two well-known examples are Godard’s jump cuts in À bout de souffle, which give it its unpredictable, energetic, “breathless” feel, and Truffaut’s iconic tracking shot in Les 400 Coups:



Others developments include shooting on location, the use of direct sound and natural light, and handheld cameras. 

In terms of themes, the filmmakers didn’t shy away from weighty issues.

Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7, for instance, followed a singer contemplating life and death in Paris, while Truffaut’s Jules et Jim and Rozier’s Adieu Philippine captured the everyday anxieties of the post-war generation.

Another notable feature was the use of ironic and sarcastic humour, rhetorical devices used to great (and often hilarious) effect.


It’s a tough ask listing all of the great New Wave films! They’re so many worth watching. Nevertheless, here are some absolute must-sees.

In no particular order:

  • Hiroshima Mon Amour (dir. Alain Resnais)
  • Les 400 Coups (dir. Francois Truffaut)
  • Jules et Jim (dir. Francois Truffaut)
  • Cléo de 5 à 7 (dir. Agnes Varda)
  • Claire’s Knee (dir. Eric Rohmer)
  • À bout de souffle (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  • Les Bonnes Femmes (dir. Claude Chabrol)
  • Lola (dir. Jacques Demy)
  • Paris Nous Appartient (dir. Jacques Rivette)

Take your pick, because they’re all fantastic.


In this excellent article, Miss Rosen describes how auteur theory changed the medium:


Rejecting the established language of cinema, it placed the power with the director, who would stamp their personal signature on the work so that the hand of the artist was felt from start to finish.

We can see the impact of this on the many stylists (or auteurs) of today. 

Tarantino, Scorcese, the Coens, and Nolan, for instance, have created bodies of work that are unmistakeably their own, and this is indebted to the New Wave’s insistence on directorial autonomy.

Also, the movement’s storytelling and filmmaking techniques, so fresh and new back then, have since become so familiar that they’re almost clichés. 

Handheld cameras, for instance. Used in everything from 28 Days Later to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Saving Private Ryan, you can’t imagine contemporary movies without them. 

Same goes for jump cuts, tracking shots, and any other number of developments that it popularised or conceived.

But if I haven’t convinced you, maybe Marty Scorsese himself will. Check out the below vid, where he talks about Jules & Jim, and the huge influence it had on his own work.



Concluding Thoughts

Is it a stretch to say that the Nouvelle Vague gave rise to modern cinema?

It sounds like hyperbole, but consider this; titles like Pulp Fiction and Goodfellas arguably wouldn’t exist without it. Or, if they did, would certainly be very different.

Its cultural significance aside, the films still hold up.

The best are funny, smart, profound, exciting, and fun, and, in terms of both aesthetics and themes, they don’t feel dated at all; pretty amazing when you consider that some are close to seventy years old.

So, there you have it – the French New Wave.

It took the rulebook, ripped it up, wrote a new one, and, in the end, changed cinema forever.

Inflight Dublin prides itself on providing the best International titles to our clients, from the French New Wave and beyond. If you’d like to learn more, contact us at mail@inflightdublin.com.


Stay up to date with Inflight Dublin news

Newsletter Signup