In 1957 Claude Chabrol, critic of the “Cahiers du cinéma”, founded his own production company, and in the following years Les cousins (1958; I cousins) by Chabrol himself, Les 400 coups (1959; I quattrocento hits), directed by François Truffaut, and Godard’s À bout de souffle (1960; Until the last breath). The Nouvelle vague was born, a heterogeneous movement of thirty-year-old directors, mostly from cinephilia circles and film criticism (the magazine ” Cahiers du cinéma managed to express precisely this simplicity and beauty of little things (Antoine Doinel’s series), extending it also to romantic costume drama (Jules et Jim, 1962, Jules and Jim), and finding personal solutions to the private detective drama (La mariée était en noir, 1968, The bride in black). Godard, the most original author of the movement, carried out a real deconstruction of the language, of the contents and in general of the whole cinematographic device, seen as a capitalist machine (Une femme est une femme, 1961, La donna è donna; Le mépris, 1963, Contempt; Pierrot le fou, 1965, The bandit of eleven). Eric Rohmer, after the failure of the first film Le signe du lion (The sign of the lion, made in 1959 and released in 1962), he turned towards a serial cinema in which banality found a precise agreement with philosophical assumptions, as in the series of Contes Moraux. Chabrol’s contribution was mainly linked to a reinterpretation of noir close to the French detective story of a provincial and family environment (À double tour, 1959, A double mandata; La femme infidèle, 1969, Stéphane, an unfaithful wife; Le boucher, 1970, Il cutthroat). Finally, Jacques Rivette (Paris nous appartient, 1961), engaged in a conceptual operation of coexistence of cinema with theater, placed himself in a more difficult position, characterized by a risky propensity for experimentation, but without the communicative naturalness of Godard . Among the figures who remained on the margins of the movement, Jacques Demy and Louis Malle, albeit with different characters and styles, they both found their expression in citation and genre-rereading cinema. The first made Les parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), a delicate and colorful musical; the second achieved immediate success in noir (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, 1957, Lift to the gallows) and in the psychological comedy (Les amants, 1958), but soon after turned towards an intimist and anguished cinema, with more difficult contents (Le feu follet, 1963, Will-o’-the-wisp). The new cinematography launched young actors who then also imposed themselves on the international scene (while remaining, unlike the stars of the Thirties, firmly linked to their country): Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Dorléac, Stéphane Audran, Anna Karina, Maurice Ronet and others. The New Wave had an identity not only aesthetic but also ideological, correlated to the political history of the country: the fact that the Ministry of Culture was entrusted to a committed intellectual like André Malraux favored not only new fictional productions but also anti-racist documentaries and anti-militarists, such as those of Frédéric Rossif (Le temps du ghetto, 1961, Vincitori alla barre), Jean Rouch (Moi, un noir, 1959; La pyramide humaine, 1961), Ch. Marker (Le joli mai, 1963), quest he last author of interesting experimental works such as La jetée (1962). This type of documentary filmmaking, where the camera had an active role as in fictional cinema (v. Cinéma vérité), also spread the technology of direct sound, the use of which became the emblem of directors such as Rohmer, Godard and Rivette. Other notable authors represent a separate case: A. Resnais, after his beginnings as a documentary filmmaker, made his debut with two films, Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) and L’année dernière à Marienbad (1961; Last year in Marienbad), written by screenwriters belonging to the literary current of the Nouveau Roman (respectively Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet, who later passed to directing): between literary games, baroque architecture and speculations on memory, Resnais immediately managed to fill a unique position. A cinema on the verge of experimentation, but which nevertheless could find its audience, allowed the birth of conceptual and literary works,
According to Homosociety, the Nouvelle vague, although short-lived, opened that cultural divide between auteur production and consumer production that would forever change the very image of cinema (for audiences of previous decades there was no such radical separation). Its impact was so violent that it spread to other cinemas: the directors of Junger deutscher Film and the American authors of the seventies and eighties, such as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, were trained in the style of Godard and Truffaut.
Not all French cinema of the period was however a product of the Nouvelle vague: the elderly directors of the Thirties ended their careers in those years, some still enjoying considerable public acclaim, such as Carné with Les tricheurs (1958; Sinners in blue jeans) ; others were awarded with rare awards for a director, such as Clair, who became an academic of France. Bresson and Tati continued their independent aesthetic project, both enemies of any compromise with the market: Bresson’s Le procès de Jeanne d’Arc (1962; The trial of Joan of Arc) was among the major failures of the period, and forced in followed the director to always resort to state subsidies; Tati’s Playtime (1967; Playtime) caused a production company to go bankrupt. Young authors linked to fashion clichés, but nevertheless gifted with sensitivity and taste, made their debut, such as Claude Lelouch (Un homme et une femme, 1966, A man, a woman), while an elderly master like L. Buñuel returned to France for the last phase of a long career (from Belle de jour, 1967, Beautiful day to Cet obscur objet du désir, 1977, Quell’oscuro object of desire, plays written with Jean-Claude Carrière). In genre cinematography, noir had an international importance: Jacques Deray, Edouard Molinaro, Claude Sautet, Henri Verneuil, but above all J.-P. Melville, who after the classic and visionary beginnings of the collaboration with J. Cocteau and the post-war civil commitment was oriented towards a reinterpretation of the classic American detective story with cold and disenchanted heroes (Le doulos, 1963, Lo spione; Le samouraï, 1967, Frank Costello angel face). A visionary and hallucinatory variant of noir climates were Georges Franju’s films such as Les yeux sans visage (1960; Faceless eyes) or Pleins feux sur assassin (1961). Of a more popular level are the films of two series directed by Borderie and started in the 1950s: the action ones with the character of Lemmy Caution, played by Eddie Constantine, a sort of 007 ante litteram (and of which Godard would have offered a deconstructionist reading in Alphaville, 1965, Agent Lemmy Caution – Mission Alphaville), and those of swashbuckling with the character of Angelica, marquise of the angels, played by Michèle Mercier. Action cinema and comedy saw two new protagonists emerge with Philippe de Broca and Michel Deville, while in the comic the
A few years after the golden period of the Nouvelle vague, the history of France was marked by the crisis of 1968, which for the cinema meant the closure of the Cannes Film Festival, anticipated a few months earlier by the demonstrations in the square in defense of Henri Langlois, director of the Cinémathèque française, one of the training centers for cinephiles of the 1950s. Despite some attempts to organize production cooperatives, 1968 did not manage to undermine the foundations of the film industry, either from a commercial or an aesthetic point of view, but only to provide some support tools for auteur cinema., such as direct shooting and a financial policy for small, hard-to-distribute footage. 1968 was not followed by a significant production of political and militant films, apart from those by Godard and a few others; however, there was a growing interest in denouncement cinema, on a professional level and integrated into official distribution, such as that of the Greek-born director Constantin Costa-Gavras: Z (1969; Z – The orgy of power), on the Greek regime of the colonels, constituted an excellent fusion between detective thriller and political film, a formula that the director continued in the seventies (État de siège, 1973, L’amerikano), and then tamed it with a style attributable to Hollywood cinema (Missing, 1982, Missing – Disappeared) In the seventies only in a few cases, such as that of Truffaut (La nuit américaine, 1973, Night effect; L’histoire d’Adèle H., 1975, Adele H., a love story; Le dernier métro, 1980, The last metro), the authors were the protagonists of great productions, capable of combining quality and commercial success like those of the great directors of the past. An elitist cinema was born parallel to the current one, which found its own market: Godard, despite the purely anti-commercial style, he even managed to make political films with famous stars (Jane Fonda in Tout va bien, 1972, Crepa padrone, tutto okay, directed with Jean-Pierre Gorin), alternating with more conceptual works, between irony and revolution (Vent d ‘Est, 1970, also known as the East Wind). Experimental authors such as Robbe-Grillet, who switched to a sort of erotic metacinematography, found an international distribution (Glissements progressifs du plaisir, 1975, Progressive displacements of pleasure); other directors with a personal style such as Bresson (Lancelot du Lac, 1974, Lancelot and Geneva) and Resnais (Providence, 1976) achieved greater visibility; even the zero-degree cinema of the couple Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, often co-produced with BRD and with Italy,
The consolidation of the already established authors made the striking debuts more rare, which during the seventies were decidedly less than those that took place ten to fifteen years earlier. Jean Eustache created La maman et la putain in 1973, a very original work that represented a new threshold of representability of the image. Bertrand Tavernier and André Téchiné, coming from film critics, brought to the screen, the first a film based on G. Simenon, L’horloger de Saint-Paul (1974; The watchmaker of Saint-Paul), and the second a literary drama in costume (Les sœurs Brontë, 1979, The Brontë sisters). After his beginnings in noir, Sautet opted for a more mature bitter comedy with a social theme: Vincent, François, Paul et les autres (1974; Three friends, his wives and – affectionately – the others).
The general panorama, however, saw a return to the standardization of ideas and contents, which privileged the ironic-humorous cinema (Les valseuses, 1974, I santissimi, by Bertrand Blier, who revealed the talent of Gérard Depardieu), while the citationist verve even reached the low-level satirical comedian (for example, with Pierre Richard or Les Charlots, the latter known in Italy as the Five Crazy, protagonists of a cinema that was the French equivalent of that of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia). The great success of these two genres allowed the increase in overall production, which from the 1960s grew to exceed 200 films in the period 1974-1977 (with significant exports, given that there was a sharp decline in the domestic market), also for the influence of low budget films,
Among the co-productions La grande bouffe (1973; La grande bouffe) by the Italian Marco Ferreri caused a sensation, a black comedy about pleasure and death, in which two actors who were no longer very young, Philippe Noiret and Michel Piccoli, played in this period they achieved success; the co-productions also made it possible to highlight two Swiss people, Claude Goretta (L’invitation, 1973, L’invito; La dentellière, 1977, La merlettaia, with Isabelle Huppert), an elegant and metaphysical director, and Alain Tanner (Jonas qui aura 25 ans en an 2000, 1976, Jonas who will be twenty in 2000), more harsh and politicized; on the wave of soft porn in fashion during the period, the aestheticized and pleased eroticism of the Polish Walerian Borowczyk emerged (Contes immoraux, 1974, The immoral tales of Borowczyk),