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What Is Nouveau Film?

By R. Stamm
Updated May 23, 2024
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Nouveau films are low-budget, avant-garde, French films produced between 1950 and 1970. The word nouveau translates to “new” in English and describes the New Wave movement in the French film industry. There were no studio directors involved with making these films, and a trademark of nouveau films is the director is often the author of the film. The films are centered on the social or political beliefs of the director, and they involve unusual filming or acting techniques. An important influence for French film directors was the socioeconomic forces following World War II and general discontent with the film industry.

The primary element in a nouveau film, the theme, centers on the spirit of attacking cherished beliefs, traditional institutions, and a self-conscious rejection of classical cinematic forms. Emphases on the individuality of a person and the obvious senselessness of the human existence were primary themes in French New Wave films. Film scripts focused on the political upheavals in Europe following World War II, as well as social conflicts occurring in the 1950s and the 1960s. The scripts used a variety of styles to make a point to audiences including the straight narrative style.

French nouveau film producers worked within a tight budget frame, and they often had to improvise on actors, actresses and scene locations. At times, the director would forgo professional actresses and actors in favor of close friends who would perform in the movie for free. Directors would film their movies in public places or at acquaintances’ apartments using very little special effects or lighting.

The actor or actress’ interaction with the dialogue in the script, the actions in front of the camera, and interaction with the audience are some of the many unusual aspects involved in nouveau film. Actors did not try to suspend the audiences’ disbelief in the film and added to it instead. The films encouraged actors to change characters from one scene to the next, and they often stepped out of character in the film to address the audience. Some films used walk-ons or extras as primary characters in the film, or they used the actors as walk-ons.

Nouveau film makers experimented radically with the visual style and editing processes of their films. The filming style was unique. Directors used creatively-designed techniques to remind the viewer that the film is just a sequence of moving images. For instance, film makers used long tracking shots for scenes and extended the lenses of the camera beyond the common 180 degrees used in most films.

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