Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou

The French New Wave is regarded as a brilliant explosion of vibrant and innovative films from post-war France in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which dramatically altered the language of cinema and influenced generations of filmmakers to this day. 

Also known as the “Nouvelle Vague,” it gave birth to a new kind of cinema that was highly self-aware and revolutionary to contrived mainstream filmmaking. A group of young French critics contributed to and edited the journal Cahiers du Cinema, putting forth their belief that many contemporary films had lost their ability to capture truth and sincere human emotion. They felt the films were out of step with how people actually lived, and set out to create new methods of filmmaking to showcase the richness and intimacy of the human experience. These critics also established the oft-contested “auteur theory”, and many of them presciently embarked on filmmaking careers which would establish them as auteurs, themselves.

For decades, mainstream filmmaking, particularly Hollywood studio films, had set the standards and “rules” on how to make a film. The French filmmakers understood those rules…and then threw them out the window. They utilized smaller, lightweight, handheld cameras which liberated them from the stationary tripod and the need for studio sets, they cut and assembled their scenes and storylines together with non-linear and fragmented editing styles which helped to establish new points of view on film, infusing new life and energy into their films. 

New Wave filmmakers explored and engaged with the social and political upheavals of the era, often making use of irony or exploring existential themes and ambiguity. Many of their films stand today as masterpieces of the genre, as well as classics of the international cinema canon.

Veteran French Filmmakers of the New Wave and Suggested Films:

François Truffaut, The 400 Blows
Jean-Luc Godard, Breathless
Claude Chabrol, Le Beau Serge
Éric Rohmer, My Night at Maud’s
Jacques Rivette, Paris Belongs to Us
Alain Resnais, Hiroshima Mon Amour
Agnès Varda, Cléo from 5 to 7
Jacques Demy, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

C’est magnifique!

Enjoy this splendid soundtrack of swanky French pop to accompany your deep dive into the cinema treasures of the French New Wave, curated by our in-house mix master, Maureen Galliani!

There are a lot of French favorites included in this playlist. Jane Birkin – singer, actress, namesake to the Birkin bag, and Mother to two talented daughters, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg and singer/songwriter Lou Doillon, is an icon. Also featured on the playlist is Brigitte Bardot, who had a charming voice and saucy style; Johnny Hallyday, who was considered the French Elvis, and Francoise Hardy, a national treasure and my personal favorite singer. Les Surfs were a 60’s French yé yé group from Madagascar with a delightfully poppy sound, and Serge Gainsbourg, considered by many to be France’s most influential and important songwriter is included, as well as sultry voiced Juliette Greco.

Carla Bruni, singer, actress and former model, is married to Nicholas Sarkozy, who was the President of France (and who famously dated Mick Jagger for a spell). Vanessa Paradis was married to Johnny Depp, and their daughter Lily Rose Depp is on her way to being a successful actress/model. Claude Francois was a hugely popular sensation in France and died tragically at age 39, leaving thousands of French women devastated. Edith Piaf, the national chanteuse of France, and iconic actress Jeanne Moreau are included. Gillian Hills song Zou Bisou Bisou, originally recorded in 1960, was discovered by a new generation when Megan Draper sang her version at husband Don Draper’s birthday party on  Mad Men.
There are many more artists included that aren’t mentioned and worth exploring, J’espère que ça vous plaira!

– Maureen