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What is new wave cinema or nouvelle vague?

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There are lots of different movements in film history out there, and when you're interested or work in video production and editing, it's important to understand them all to create better videos.

French new wave cinema is one of the most important and ground-breaking movements in the history of film. But, what else is there to know about the specifics of the French new wave movement?

Have you done your research on French new wave cinema yet? Luckily, we're here to explain everything you need to know.

La Nouvelle Vague, New Wave Cinema

What is French new wave cinema?

The French new wave cinema movement, also known as nouvelle vague, was one of the first big movements in the history of the medium. It originated in the 1950s and 1960s. The movement was originally defined by a group of critics writing for the journal Cahiers du Cinema. French new wave is based on being experimental, and rejected the then-entrenched rules about how to make films. In this movement, handheld cameras were heavily used, so shots used are less steady. They often used improvised dialogue, and focused on visuality rather than the plot of the film. These films were nonlinear in their format, and often eschewed the then-traditional rules of editing.

Clearly, it started in France, with directors, writers, and producers such as Jean-Luc Godard, Agnes Varda, Jean Rouch, Suzanne Schiffman, François Truffaut, Marguerite Duras and many others.

Actors who appeared in these movies included Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Bernadette Lafont, Anouk Aimée, Maurice Ronet, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Jean-Pierre Léaud, and Claude Jade.

Movements in film that are related to French new wave cinema include Left Bank, British New Wave, Mowje Now, Parallel Cinema, L.A. Rebellion, Remodernist film, and Hong Kong new wave.

Why is it important to understand new wave cinema?

It's important to understand new wave cinema because it created stylistic choices that have been used for decades now.

New wave cinema is also very important for student filmmakers and independent filmmakers. That's because it is usually lower budget overall, and requires fewer people or equipment.

New wave cinema often uses direct camera audio, which means you don't need external sound recorders, microphones, booms, and the like. New wave cinema doesn't use extra lighting, either, instead sticking with whatever lighting is on hand.

They utilized realistic locations, rather than using sets or fake science fiction setups, which is better for smaller-scale creators to duplicate. They weren't produced in the studio, and instead were created out in the real world. They also used long shots, rather than cutting in between scenes or jumping around all the time.

Many modern filmmakers also incorporate French new wave cinema influences into their work. These include big-name directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Michel Hazanavicius, Michel Gondry, Richard Ayoade, Sofia Coppola, and Martin Scorcese.

New wave cinema tenets have and are commonly used in documentary films, since those types of films often have to be somewhat improvised and on the fly no matter what.

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How to learn more about new wave cinema

You may be having difficulty understanding what new wave cinema looks like in practice. Luckily, there are lots of examples out there you can check out. Some of the top examples of French new wave films that you may find interesting include:

  • Shoot the Piano Player

  • Hiroshima mon amour

  • Less bonnes femme

  • Cleo from 5 to 7

  • Pierrot le Fou

  • La Pointe Courte

  • The Gleaners and I

  • Jules and Jim

  • Celine and Julia Go Boating

  • Band of Outsiders

  • Muriel, or the Time of Return

  • Last Year at Marienbad

  • Paris Belongs To Us

These are just a sampling of the many amazing examples you can check out. Take a look, and you can incorporate similar themes into your own work.

How is new wave cinema used in social media videos?

You can incorporate some of the influences of new wave cinema into your social media videos, if you're interested. Because new wave cinema eschews scripting, it's not necessarily the best choice for TikTok videos. But it can certainly be incorporated into many other social platform videos.

If your social media videos are in a different language (including French), you might want to add English subtitles or subtitles in another language so they're more understandable to different groups.

Using new wave cinemas is a great idea if you're planning on live streaming while you're out in the world. Because these videos are already on the fly, using minimal equipment and realistic situations is a simple and easy way to create content for your social media feed.

And, you can't cut during a live stream, adding to the new wave feel of your video.

Or, if you're planning a non-fiction YouTube series, using various parts of new wave cinema can add a more cohesive feel to your series to improve your style and keep your audience engaged over the long term.

Think in the style of Vice when you're making non-fiction series for social media. Raw, uncut, and realistic content is important for creating new wave inspired content for various platforms.

Make your new wave film today with Clipchamp

French new wave cinema and its offshoots play a huge role in our movie landscape today, so it's super important to understand it and pay attention to how it's influenced various films.

Do you have more questions about various aspects of the history of film and film production? Learn more about the basics of video and film production in Clipchamp's Video Glossary. When you're ready to edit, just drag, drop and edit your video or film by signing up to Clipchamp.

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