French New Wave Cinema


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The Nouvelle Vague: A Beginner's Guide
The directors associated with the Nouvelle Vague, including Francois TruffautJean-Luc GodardClaude ChabrolEric RohmerJacques RivetteLouis Malle,Alain ResnaisAgnes Varda, and Jacques Demy have made, between them, films numbering in the many hundreds. (For reference, you can see the New Wave Encyclopedia for films we consider to be a part of the French New Wave.) If you were to add to this the works of those various filmmakers of the era who have been labelled as New Wave at one time or another, as well as those influenced by the movement, both in France and abroad, then the number of potential films would run into many thousands.
Getting to grips with the New Wave thus understandably might seem a daunting prospect for somebody wanting to explore the movement for the first time. With that in mind, this introduction will provide some general context and an overview of some of the French New Wave's most basic concepts. It will also offer some suggestions about where to start your investigations, as well as an overview of the seminal "must see" films which best .define the movement. If you’ve already seen many of the best known New Wave films, or are looking fora more specific approach, you might try our Top 10 New Wave Film Lists, which drill down by director, sub-genre, performance and other various categories.Breathless, dir. Jean-Luc Godard [1960] .

Fifty years on: Why the New Wave Still Matters
It has now been more than half a century since the directors of the New Wave (in French, Nouvelle Vague) electrified the international film scene with their revolutionary new way of telling stories on film. The New Wave itself may no longer be "new", but the directors and their films are still important. They are the progenitors of what we have come to think of as alternative cinema today, and they had, and continue to have, a profound influence on popular culture in the West and throughout the world. Without the Nouvelle Vague there may not have been any ScorceseSoderbergh, or Tarantino (or Wenders, or Oshima, or Bertolucci), and music, fashion and advertising would be without a major point of reference.
The directors of the Nouvelle Vague, and those of their like-minded contemporaries in other countries, created a new cinematic style, using breakthrough techniques and a fresh approach to storytelling, that could express complex ideas while still being both direct and emotionally engaging. Crucially, these filmmakers also proved that they didn't need the mainstream studios to produce successful films on their own terms. By  emphasizing the personal and artistic vision of film over its worth as a commercial 

product, the Nouvelle Vague set an example that inspired others across the world to follow. In every sense, they were the true founders of modern independent film, and to watch them for the first time is to rediscover cinema.

 Breathless, dir. Jean-Luc Godard [1960] 

A Radical New Type of Filmmaking

To get a general idea of what this new cinematic approach meant, it might help to understand that before they were directors, the main players of the New Wave were the original film geeks, or cinephiles. Cinema was very important in a culture-starved post-war France, and most of the New Wave directors spent a great deal of time in their early years writing or thinking about it. Some were film critics, some were simply lovers of film - nearly all sharpened their cinematic sensibilities through long hours spent in the various Parisian cinematheques and film clubs. Their influences included everything from movies by realist Italian directors like Roberto Rosselini to hard-boiled noir and B movies from America, as well as early silent classics and even the latest technicolour Hollywood musicals. From this passion for cinema they developed a belief in the theory of the auteur: that is, a conviction that the best films are the product of a personal artistic expression and should bear the stamp of personal authorship, much as great works of literature bear the stamp of the writer.
Une Femme Est Une Femme, dir. Jean-Luc Godard [1961] .

 Une Femme Est Une Femme, dir. Jean-Luc Godard [1961] .

Although they admired many of the studio films being made at the time, they also felt that most mainsteam cinema, especially in France, was not expressing human life, thought, and emotion in a genuine way. Many of the popular movies of the era, they argued, were dry, recycled, inexpressive and out of touch with the daily lives of post-war French youth.
While the Nouvelle Vague may never have been a formally organized movement, its filmmakers were linked by their self-conscious rejection of the ‘cinéma de qualité’ (‘cinema of quality’), the pompous and expensive costume pictures that dominated the French filmscape at the time. 
Besides being made to impress rather than express, these films generally afforded their directors very little freedom or creative control, instead catering to the commercial whims of producers and screenwriters. Those New Wave directors who started as critics, mainly writing for the French journal called Cahiers du Cinema, regularly praised the films they loved and tore apart those films they hated in print. 

Through the process of judging the art of cinemathey began to think about what it was that might make the medium specialMore importantly they were gradually inspired to begin making films themselves. While each director had a slightly different agenda, Truffaut could be said to encapsulate the group's mission when he said, "The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of the camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure."

Broadly speaking, the New Wave rejected the idea of a traditional story in the "Old Hollywood" sense - stories based on narrative styles and structures lifted from earlier media, namely books and theatre. The New Wave directors did not want to hold your hand through each scene, directing you emotion by emotion, through a fixed narrative. There was a feeling that this sort of storytelling interfered with the viewer's ability to perceive and react to film just as they would perceive and react to life. These directors wanted to break up the filmic experience, to make it fresh and exciting, and to jolt the moviegoer out of complacent viewing - to make the viewer think and feel not only about what they were watching, but about their own lives, thoughts and emotions as well. Dialogue was to be as realistic as possible, or strange in a way that made one think beyond the film, or inspired new ideas. Expressing the truth was of the utmost importance. The object was not simply to entertain, it was to sincerely communicate.

The scripts (or lack thereof) of these new directors were often revolutionary, but the films' modest budgets often forced them to become technically inventive as well. As a result, the movies of the Nouvelle Vague have became known for certain stylistic innovations such as: jump cuts (a non-naturalistic edit), rapid editing, shooting outdoors and on location, natural lighting, improvised dialogue and plotting, direct sound recording (as opposed to the dubbing that was popular at the time), mobile cameras, and long takes. In addition, their films often engaged, although sometimes indirectly, with thesocial and political upheavals of their times. You can read a more in-depth history of the French New Wave in our history article.

New Wave International
Although the French New Wave is the best known, similar cinematic movements were happening elsewhere, also fuelled by the cultural and social change that came in the wake of the Second World War. In Britain, the emergence of the Free Cinema movement in the 1950’s paralleled the course of the French New Wave. The first productions of these filmmakers who included Lindsay AndersonTony Richardson and Karel Reisz were documentaries chronicling working-class life that had a freshness, energy and modern satirical edge. These qualities were also characteristic of their subsequent feature films, many of which were adapted from the plays and novels of the so called “Angry Young Men” writers.
                           The Firemen's Ball, dir. Czech New Wave director Milos Forman [1967] 
Meanwhile, in Europe, the New Wave helped to inspire groups of like-minded young directors in Communist controlled Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary. Shooting on location, often using non-professional actors, they sought to capture life as it was really lived in their societies. Italian cinema too, was encouraged by the example of the New Wave, as it moved beyond the Fantastical realism of Federico Fellini, the existential modernism of Michelangelo Antonioni, and the Marxist materialism of Federico FelliniPier Paolo Pasolini and Francesco Rosi. Later in the 1960’s, the directors of New German Cinema -- like Rainer Werner FassbinderWim Wenders and Werner Herzog -- took the New Wave methods and created a style of cinema uniquely their own.
Revolutionary film movements also arose in Japan and Brazil where directors like Nagisa Oshima and Glauber Rocha made films devoted to questioning, analyzing, critiquing and upsetting social conventions. Indeed, in countries around the world, young filmmakers armed with hand-held cameras and ideas inspired by the Nouvelle Vague were making films on their own terms. All had their own particular flavour, but, in each case, came into being as a reaction against what had come before and arose out of the feeling that such breaks in tradition were necessary to the positive evolution of cinema in their country.

Pulp Fiction: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Pulp Fiction, dir. Quentin Tarantino [1994] .

It was happening even in America, the very heartland of commercial cinema. Directors such as John Cassavetes blazed a trail for independent American cinema with films like Shadows which bore remarkable similarities to the work of the French New Wave. At the same time, the Direct Cinema documentary movement lead by Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker and the Maysles brothers. They applied similar techniques as the New Wave and Free Cinema in an effort to directly capture reality and represent it truthfully, and to question the relationship of reality with cinema.

Later, the Nouvelle Vague was a major inspiration on the New Hollywood generation of directors such as Arthur PennRobert Altman and Martin Scorsesewho began blazing their own paths in the late 1960’s and 70’s. This influence has continued to the present day with many of the major figures in contemporary independent American cinema, including Steven SoderberghQuentin Tarantino, and Wes Anderson, professing admiration for the movement and have generously used its techniques. As Scorsese himself put it: 'the French New Wave has influenced all filmmakers who have worked since, whether they saw the films or not. It submerged cinema like a tidal wave'.


The Cahiers du Cinema Directors

Although opinions differ as to which directors belong in the Nouvelle Vague and which don’t, all are agreed that the five directors (Claude Chabrol, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette) who wrote for Cahiers du Cinema, are the core of the movement. The following is a selection of key films by members of this group which defined the New Wave during its heyday. We've started with the earliest films and have picked out the most fundamental to the movement.

Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows, 1959) Francois Truffaut
Les Quatre Cents Coups : Nouvelle Vague Guide
Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows, 1959) Francois Truffaut

This smash hit of the 1959 Cannes Film Festival may not have technically been the first New Wave movie, but it was the first to gain widespread attention and is often cited as the real beginning of the Nouvelle Vague. Truffaut drew on inspiration from his own troubled childhood for this classic story of youthful rebellion.

Les Quatre Cents Coups (Hulu)>>>
À Bout De Souffle (Breathless, 1960) Jean-Luc Godard
A Bout De Souffle: Nouvelle Vague Guide
À Bout De Souffle (Breathless, 1960)Jean-Luc Godard

In one of the most audacious directorial debuts in film history, Godard redefines the rules of cinematic storytelling in this thrilling homage to American gangster flicks which made a star of Jean-Paul Belmondo and continues to influence film and fashion.
Tirez Sur Le Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player, 1960) Francois Truffaut
Tirez Sur Le Pianiste: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Tirez Sur Le Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player, 1960) Francois Truffaut
Comedy and tragedy go hand in hand in Truffaut’s eloquent and playful homage to Film Noir. In the lead role Charles Aznavour is brilliant as Charlie, the washed up pianist, who is forced to face up to the past he has tried to forget, when his gangster brother comes to the bar where he works one night.
Les Bonnes Femmes (The Good Girls, 1960) Claude Chabrol
Les Bonnes Femmes: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Les Bonnes Femmes (The Good Girls,1960) Claude Chabrol

New Wave realism meets Hitchcockian suspense in this compelling drama chronicling the lives and loves of four Parisian shop girls over the course of several days. The unsentimental portrayal of contemporary young women proved too distressing for some and the film provoked a backlash which saw Chabrol retreat into more escapist material until the late 60s.
Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962) Francois Truffaut
Jules and Jim: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962)Francois Truffaut

Truffaut’s enduring masterpiece is a captivating story of love and friendship between three people over the course of twenty-five years. A stylistically thrilling work of cinema, brimming with charm, full of innovative storytelling techniques, and running the gamut of emotions, from joie de vivre to tragedy.
Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live, 1962) Jean-Luc Godard
Vivre Sa Vie: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live, 1962)Jean-Luc Godard

Twelve Brechtian tableaux chronicle the life and death of a young woman, beginning as a cinema verite documentary and ending as a Monogram style B movie. A fierce critique of consumerism in which people become just another commodity to be bought and sold.
Le Mépris (Contempt, 1963) Jean-Luc Godard
Le Mepris: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Le Mépris (Contempt, 1963) Jean-Luc Godard

Brigitte Bardot gives one of her best performances in Godard’s emotionally raw account of a marital break up set against the intrigues of the international film industry. With its beautiful soundtrack by Georges Delarue, and sumptuous Mediterranean colours, it has the weight and resonance of classical tragedy.
Bande à Part (Band of Outlaws, 1964) Jean-Luc Godard
Bande à Part: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Bande à Part (Band of Outlaws, 1964)Jean-Luc Godard

Anna Karina teams up with a couple of petty crooks played by Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur in this freewheeling crime caper thriller set in and around the streets of Paris. This is one of Godard’s most playful movies, full of off the cuff invention and memorable set pieces.
Alphaville (1965) Jean-Luc Godard
Alphaville: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Alphaville (1965) Jean-Luc Godard
Science-fiction and film noir collide in the bizarre city of Alphaville where free thought and individualist concepts like love, poetry, and emotion have been eliminated. Can secret agent Lemmy Caution fulfil his mission to kill Professor Von Braun and destroy the evil computer Alpha 60?
Pierrot le Fou (1965) Jean-Luc Godard
Pierrot le Fou: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Pierrot le Fou (1965) Jean-Luc Godard

One of Godard’s greatest achievements, this pulp-noir anti-thriller has been described as cinematic Cubism Shot in dazzling primary colours and loaded with references to literature, painting, other movies and pop culture, Pierrot Le Fou is, amongst other things, about the struggles of the artist, Vietnam, and the death of romance.

Le Boucher (The Butcher, 1970) Claude Chabrol
Le Boucher: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Le Boucher (The Butcher, 1970) Claude Chabrol

A village schoolteacher begins to suspect that her close friend, the local butcher, might enjoy carving up more than steak and porkchops. Widely considered Chabrol's greatest work, this Hitchcock-inspired thriller is rich in both authentic atmosphere and nerve-jangling suspense.

The Left Bank Group

Although the Cahiers du Cinema directors became the most celebrated members of the Nouvelle Vague, there was another loose contingent of brilliant and highly original filmmakers who were also associated with the movement. This was the Rive Gauche or Left Bank Movement whose core members included Chris MarkerAlain Resnais and Agnes Varda. These filmmakers had backgrounds in documentary and literature, an interest in experimental storytelling, and an identification with the political left. (Although it is worth noting that the label "Left Bank" was constructed by journalists years after the fact. At the time the friends did not consider themselves part of any group). Other associates of the movement included Alain Robbe-GrilletMarguerite DurasHenri Colpi, and, by virtue of his marriage to Agnes Varda, the colourful Jacques Demy. The following is a selection of films to watch by this group made during the New Wave era. For more suggestions visit our Top 10 Lists and the French New Wave Encyclopedia.

Before the phrase was ever invented, there was in fact already a "new wave" of directors in France breaking with the traditional modes of production and setting an example that others would follow. Although vastly different in both content and style, the films of directors such as Jean-Pierre MelvilleJean RouchLouis Malle and Alexandre Astruc were visionary and innovative. Later these directors became associated with the Nouvelle Vague movement, although some of them, such as Jean-Pierre Melville, rejected the label.
After the New Wave became a success, a whole new generation of filmmakers in France were inspired to follow their example. Over 20 directors released their first films in 1959 and this number doubled in the following year. In 1962, a special edition of Cahiers du Cinema was released in which 162 new French Filmmakers were listed. Inevitably many have not stood the test of time, however the best of them went on to have long and enduring careers.
What follows is brief list of key films by these directors leading up to, during, and immediately after the Nouvelle Vague period.

Et Dieu... Créa la Femme (And God Created Woman, 1956) Roger Vadim
Et Dieu... Crea la Femme: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Et Dieu... Créa la Femme (And God Created Woman, 1956) Roger Vadim

Vadim’s directorial debut broke box office records and censorship taboos in its teasing display of sex and eroticism in Saint-Tropez. Its success lauched the career of Brigitte Bardot and gave independent producers the confidence to back the up-coming films of the New Wave

Et Dieu... Créa la Femme(Hulu)>>>

Le Feu Follet (The Fire Within, 1963)Louis Malle
Le Feu Follet: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Le Feu Follet (The Fire Within, 1963)Louis Malle

A melancholic study of a self-destructive writer who resolves to kill himself and spends the next twenty-four hours trying to reconnect with a host of wayward friends. Maurice Ronet gives an outstanding performance as Alain who has spent his life “waiting for something to happen”, but refuses to accept the compromises of adulthood.

Le Feu Follet (You Tube)>>>

Un Homme et une Femme (A Man and a Woman,1966) Claude Lelouch
Un Homme et une Femme: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Un Homme et une Femme (A Man and a Woman,1966) Claude Lelouch

Claude Lelouch scored an award-winning international hit with this eloquent love story which became famous for it’s lush visuals, the performances of its two leads Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, and its unforgetable musical theme.

Un Homme et une Femme (Google Play)>>>

Le Samourai (1967) Jean-Pierre Melville
Le Samourai: Nouvelle Vague Guide
Le Samourai (1967) Jean-Pierre Melville

Alain Delon is the ultimate existential loner in Jean-Pierre Melville’s ultra-cool crime classic. Combining 1940s American gangster films and 1960’s French pop culture with Japanese warrior philosophy, Melville’s hip, stylish thriller has often been imitated but never bettered.




Jean-Luc Godard (born 3 December 1930) is a Franco-Swiss filmmaker and a leading member of the
"French New Wave”. Known for stylistic innovations that challenged the conventions of Hollywood
cinema, he is universally recognized as the most audacious, radical, as well as the most influential of the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers. His work reflects a fervent knowledge of film history, a comprehensive understanding of existential and Marxist philosophy, and a profound insight into the fragility of human relationships.
Before directing, Godard was an ethnology student and a critic for Cahiers du cinéma, and his approach to filmmaking reflects his interest in how cinematic form intertwines with social reality. His groundbreaking debut feature,Breathless—his first and last mainstream success—is, of course, essential Godard: its strategy of merging high (Mozart) and low (American crime thrillers) culture has been mimicked by generations of filmmakers. As the sixties progressed, Godard’s output became increasingly radical, both aesthetically (A Woman Is a Woman, Contempt, Band of Outsiders) and politically (Masculin féminin, Pierrot le fou), until by 1968 he had forsworn commercial cinema altogether, forming a leftist filmmaking collective (the Dziga Vertov Group) and making such films as Tout va bien. Today Godard remains our greatest lyricist on historical trauma, religion, and the legacy of cinema.

"A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end... but not necessarily in that order."

"Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second."

"American pictures usually have no subject, only a story. A pretty woman is not a subject. Julia Roberts doing this and that is not a subject."

Vivre sa vie, 1962
[My Life to Live]
KarinaMy Life to Live is a highly stylized and extraordinarily unformulaic adaptation of a simple premise: a young woman, seeking the freedom and excitement of, what Federico Fellini calls La Dolce Vita, leaves her family to pursue an acting career, only to turn to a life of prostitution. From the opening sequence showing a detached, seemingly clinical exhibition of Anna Karina's face and profile, followed by an uneasy dialogue between Nana (Karina) and Paul (Andre-S. Labarthe) filmed at an angle showing the backs of their heads, we are introduced to the singular, iconoclastic vision that is Jean-Luc Godard. Stripped of expression and sentimentality, Godard, nevertheless, succeeds in creating a film that is visually stunning and full of pathos. We are drawn to Anna, not because of her seductive persona or compassionate actions, but because she ishumanity, lost and desperate, incapable of comprehending her misery nor articulating her pain (Note the parallel character of Antonio Ricci in Vittorio de Sica's The Bicycle Thief.

Godard's revolutionary camerawork transcends nouvelle vague novelty: it serves as a cinematic extension of Nana's soul. The awkward angles and long panning shots during Nana and Paul's conversations reveals the underlying tension and emotional distance between them. Deeply affected (understandably) by Maria Falconetti's performance in Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, Nana's conversation proceeds in silent film intertitles - reflecting her own suffering and innate desire to achieve greatness and escape the banality of her sordid life. The seamless camerawork following Nana as she dances uninhibitedly around the billiard room feels intoxicating, almost mesmerizing - a fleeting glimpse of the few brief moments of pure joy she has ever known. My Life to Live is a truly remarkable film: a synthesis of artistic vision and moral tale, suffused with haunting melody, the ballad of a contemporary tragedy.
Amazon:Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc


Amazon:Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard

Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard

by David Sterritt & Richard Brody.


Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, the first book by New Yorker writer Richard Brody, contains many revealing anecdotes about its eponymous main character. This is fitting, since Jean-Luc Godard is arguably film’s most anecdote-friendly director; many of his films consist of anecdotes and vignettes strung together with greater or lesser amounts of narrative adhesive, and he himself is the protagonist of more famous behind-the-scenes yarns than any other French New Wave auteur. One story related by Brody strikes me as particularly emblematic. Working on the science-fiction allegory Alphaville in 1965, Godard decided to shoot at night with a new kind of high-sensitivity film and virtually no artificial lighting, so that a shroud of semiobscurity would enhance the sense of a dystopian future already imminent in our own imperfect present. This didn’t sit well with cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who warned that the footage would turn out totally obscure, whereas the same effect could be safely achieved by using lights and stopping down the lens. Godard refused, citing the primacy of “the real” that he’d absorbed from Roberto Rossellini and other mentors. The result was three thousand meters of unusable film, but this didn’t stop Godard from sticking with his technique until the real intruded in another way: the crew went on strike over receiving daytime wages for nighttime work, forcing him to shoot before dark in rooms with blacked-out windows. Godard moaned that he was being “sabotaged,” but Coutard saw this as just another instance of his continual complaint that working with other people cramped his creativity. “He’d like to swallow the film,” Coutard said at the time, “and process it out his ass—that way he wouldn’t need anyone.”
This tale sums up a great deal about Godard and his esthetic drives: his desire to capture personal visions as precisely as film allows, his need to blur the boundaries between fiction and documentary, his readiness to gamble on risky techniques, his willingness to stand by his instincts even when trusted associates tell him he is wrong, wrong, wrong. And it vividly conveys Godard’s tendency to disrupt his own shoots with stubborn demands and grievances. Godard sabotaged his productions a lot more often than his coworkers did, and Brody’s book records so many quarrels, disputes, snap decisions, abrupt reversals, and time-wasting vacillations—some of them fleeting, others destructive of projects, collaborations, and friendships—that it’s a wonder he has sustained a career at all, much less completed ninety features, shorts, and videos as of this writing.
So much originality, eccentricity, public commotion, private doubt, commercial failure, and artistic attainment have attended Godard’s career that any biographer—including an unconventional one like Brody, who seeks to cast as much light on the creations as on the creator—faces an enormous and complicated task. Brody’s great accomplishment is to shape Godard’s working life into a lucid and coherent narrative, considerably longer and more detailed than Colin MacCabe’s estimable 2003 biography Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy, yet eminently readable and admirably informative. After two chapters on Godard’s early life and beginnings as a film critic, all but three of the twenty-seven subsequent chapters are named after the film or video productions that dominated the corresponding years of the director’s life; although some chapters digress at length about secondary matters—works by Jean Giraudoux and Jean Cocteau that figure in Breathless, for instance, or the vicissitudes of Maoist thought at the École normale supérieure—the chronological structure and straightforward style make for a compelling and sometimes spellbinding read.

Anna Karina and Eddie Constantine in Godard's Sci-Fi metaphor Alphaville
Ironically, however, the book’s crisp narrative through-line gives rise to its main weakness—too much emphasis on romance as a motivating power—as well as many of its strengths. I have long believed that an understanding of the women in Godard’s life provides a key to the inner reaches of his artistry, so replete are his films with reflections, inflections, and allusions drawn from profoundly private sources within his mind and heart. Sometimes the links between public expression and private rumination are obvious, as when the credits of My Life to Live (1962) announce the film as a conflicted love-portrait of Anna Karina, who was then Godard’s wife, or when Brigitte Bardot puts on a brunette Karina wig in Contempt, made in 1963 when his relationship with Karina was in trouble. At other times the private-public connections are veiled or cryptic; according to Brody, some of Godard’s voice-overs in the 1967 film Two or Three Things I Know About Her are commentaries on his inability to get Marina Vlady, the movie’s star, to marry him—a fascinating point that lends new meaning to the film’s fabled meditation on a cup of swirling espresso, when Godard whispers on the soundtrack, “Since each event transforms my daily life, since I endlessly fail to communicate…to understand, to love, to make myself be loved….”
Such linkages are valuable aids in grasping and interpreting the full range of Godard’s referential world. But in the first half of the book, Brody relies on them too much and carries them too far, as if entire continents of that referential world rest firmly on the current state of Jean-Luc’s love life. In the musical A Woman Is a Woman, for example, Brody writes that the “conjured reality that evokes emotion is…the off-camera story of Godard and Karina….” In the sardonic sociological drama A Married Woman, made in the year when the couple divorced, Godard served up a “moralizing and puritanical critique of…a world in which it was plausible for Anna Karina to leave him.” The most notorious line that Godard had Karina speak in Pierrot le fou, “Fuck me,” is an eruption of “wish-fulfillment” straight from the filmmaker’s id. And so on, until the book arrives at Godard’s final break with Karina, whereupon his new romance with Anne Wiazemsky takes over as Brody’s structuring agent.
After analyzing Weekend, a culminating work in which the “betrayals dramatized by Godard since the start of his career…took on their most bitter and evil form,” Brody eases up on this device, perhaps because the next few years found Godard working more intensely with male collaborators (Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean-Henri Roger) than with female ones. But not until Brody gets to Godard’s long-lasting relationship with Anne-Marie Miéville, who has been more of an equal artistic partner for him than the others, do we lose the sense of a biographer straining to follow a predetermined scheme.

Godard on the set of First Name: Carmen
Godard’s personal and professional alliance with Miéville, which began in earnest with the 1975 political drama Numéro Deux, ushered in a stage of his career that continues to the present and contains some of his most brilliant and challenging works. It has also brought out aspects of his creative personality that, Brody vigorously contends, are more scandalous and disturbing than anything in his earlier films. Brody’s most incriminating charge is that of anti-Semitism, not only in connection with Godard’s longtime support of the Palestinian cause but as a matter of generalized prejudice rooted in everything from his childhood absorption of ambient French bigotry to his feud with Claude Lanzmann over the latter’s refusal to use archival footage in the Holocaust documentary Shoah. Brody musters a fair amount of evidence, such as a 1985 remark that invokes the stereotyped slur of Jewish usury: in the history of cinema, Godard said, the ”real producer” is “the image of the Central European Jew” because “[m]aking a film [involves] visibly producing debts.” Brody locates the heart of Godard’s anti-Jewish bias in his conviction—aired most expansively in Histoire(s) du cinéma, his 1998 video series—that true cinema died in the middle Forties as a result of its failure to document the Holocaust, a failure that Godard attributes to money-minded Jewish studio heads. More broadly, Brody paints Godard as an obsessive artist who regards “all of human history as a precursor to or tributary of the history of cinema,” and who blames the Jewish people—starting with Moses, who returned from the Burning Bush with tablets of law rather than icons of revelation—for “the fundamental cultural flaw of society, its preference for text over images, its anti-cinematic prejudice.” Brody finds the apex of Godard’s bigotry in the 2004 collage-drama Notre Musique, which Brody calls “a film of prewar prejudices adorned with postwar resentments—and, like much else in the history of anti-Semitism, with personal frustrations.”
As powerful as much of Brody’s argument is, he weakens it by overinterpreting the evidence and (as with the women-and-films motif) pushing it too far—writing about Notre Musique, for example, as if anti-Semitism overwhelmed every other element in its intricate network of images and ideas. But dubious devices mar only a few portions of Everything Is Cinema, and my other complaints are relatively minor, relating to interpretations more than methodologies. Brody peppers the early chapters with hints of New Wave filmmakers courting right-wing ideas, for instance, but he does little to flesh out or analyze these episodes. He overrates A Woman Is a Woman and For Ever Mozart and Éloge de l’amour just as he underrates British Sounds and Weekend and Notre Musique. He fails to see the ungainliness of Le Petit soldat (star Michel Subor told me Godard had “no idea what he was doing” throughout the shoot) and he extols the “decomposition” shots inSauve qui peut (la vie), which Godard told me had come out all wrong. My eyebrows also rose at finding a New Yorker scribe who thinks “composed” and “comprised” are synonymous. But no study of this magnitude can please every reader all the time, and while more detailed discussions might have bolstered Brody’s positions, at 701 pages the book can hardly be called sketchy.
 Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli in Contempt
Everything Is Cinema acquired its title when Godard spoke those words to Brody, and the writer takes them to signify not only Godard’s famous idea that “one should put everything into a film” but also his desire to blend the flow of cinema and the passage of his own life into a single indissoluble cascade. This book captures the rhythms and energies of that cascade better than any prior work outside the precincts of Godard’s own films and videos. In the preface, Brody tells about a New Yorker cartoon that Godard described to him when they first met in 2000: a unicorn, wearing a suit and seated at a desk, says into a telephone, “These rumors of my nonexistence are making it very difficult for me to obtain financing.” In today’s artistically parlous movie world, Godard has good reason to feel like that unicorn. Although it isn’t likely to help him obtain financing, this meticulously researched biography is a spirited reminder that Godard indisputably exists, and that his mark on cinema will endure as long as untiring chroniclers like Brody keep his story alive.


 Francois Roland Truffaut (February 6, 1932 – October 21, 1984) was one of the founders of the French New Wave, and remains an icon of international cinema. In a career lasting just over a quarter of a century, he was screenwriter, director, producer and actor in over twenty-five films.

A lifelong cinephile, François Truffaut first made his cinematic mark as a fiery, contentious critic for Cahiers du cinéma in the 1950s, denouncing the French film industry’s bloated “tradition of quality” and calling for the director to be redefined as the auteur, or individual author, of the film. Truffaut then became an auteur himself, starting with The 400 Blows, which won him the best director award at Cannes and led the French new-wave charge. The 400 Blows remains Truffaut’s seminal film, yet he continued to reinvigorate cinema throughout the sixties, with such thrilling works as Shoot the Piano Player and Jules and Jim. Truffaut also continued to follow the adventures of 400 Blows protagonist Antoine Doinel—embodied by Jean-Pierre Léaud—through the seventies (Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, Love on the Run), while directing such other classics as Day for Night and The Last Metro, which displayed his undying love for cinema and life. His own life was tragically cut short at the age of fifty-two.


I  demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between.

Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" (1959) is one of the most intensely touching stories ever made about a young adolescent. Inspired by Truffaut's own early life, it shows a resourceful boy growing up in Paris and apparently dashing headlong into a life of crime. Adults see him as a troublemaker. We are allowed to share some of his private moments, as when he lights a candle before a little shrine to Balzac in his bedroom. The film's famous final shot, a zoom in to a freeze frame, shows him looking directly into the camera. He has just run away from a house of detention, and is on the beach, caught between land and water, between past and future. It is the first time he has seen the sea.
Roger Ebert


Jean-Paul Belmondo (born 9 April 1933) is a French film starand one of the actors most closely associated with the New Wave. His laconic, tough guy persona, expressive, unconventional looks, and considerable onscreen charm have made him an icon of French cinema.

Jean-Paul Belmondo

Jean-Paul Belmondo was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, the son of the sculptor Paul Belmondo. He performed poorly at school but developed a passion for boxing and football. By the time he reached his twenties, Belmondo had decided to pursue a career in acting. After a number of attempts, he was enrolled at the Paris Conservatory to study drama, although his tutors were not optimistic about his prospects.

The coming of the French New Wave in 1959 finally brought Belmondo real stardom. In that year he appeared first in Claude Chabrol’s A Double Tour, which received little notice. It was his next performance, however, as the anti-hero Michel Poiccard inJean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle, whichmade him an international star. Defiant, reckless, witty and amoral, Belmondo’s Poiccard was the perfect protagonist for Godard’s revolutionary break with the past. The success of the film even resulted in a wave of “Belmondism” in the hipper circles of Paris, with young men modelling themselves on him.

Belmondo revealed unexpected versatility in his next roles, acting opposite Sophia Loren in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women(1960)and as the enigmatic priest in Jean-Pierre Melville’s World War II drama Leon Morin, Petre (1961). He worked with Godard again for the musical comedy A Woman is a Woman (1961), and with Melville on the film noir/gangster homage Le Doulos (1963).

In Pierrot le Fou (1965), his next collaboration with Godard,  Belmondo plays a writer who leaves behind his unhappy life and sets off on a crazy road trip with the babysitter played by Anna Karina. Together they battle gunrunners, gas station attendants, and American tourists in a story that mixes high and pop culture with brilliant artistry. Standing in for Godard, as a man who cannot choose between art and life, Belmondo inhabits his character effortlessly.

Although he had become synonymous at this stage of his career with the films of the New Wave directors, Belmondo also played more mainstream roles in films such as the period swashbuckler Cartouche (1962), the romantic comedy La Chasse a L’Homme(1964) and Philippe De Broca’s action comedy L’Homme de Rio (1964).  Capitalising on his increasing drawing power, he founded his own production company called Cerito to produce many of his films.

He continued his association with the Nouvelle Vague directors, starring in Francois Truffaut’s romantic drama Mississippi Mermaid (1969) opposite Catherine DeneuveLouis Malle’s crime comedy Le Voleur (1967), Claude Chabrol’s black comedyDocteur Popaul (1972), and Alain Resnais ambitious biopic of a famous speculator and con man from the 1930s, Stavisky (1974).

The failure of this last film however, appears to have dissuaded Belmondo from working with the more experimental New Wave filmmakers, and, from this time forward, he began appearing almost exclusively in more commercially oriented features. Among them L’Incorrigible (1975), directed by de Broca, and the crime thrillers Peur Sur la Ville (1975) and L’Alpagueur (1976).

In 1978 Belmondo began a profitable collaboration with director Georges Lautner on the hit comedy thriller Flic ou Voyou. They continued their successful run with Le Guignolo (1979), Le Professionnel (1981), the comedy Joyeuses Paques! (1984), and the mystery L’Inconnu dans la Maison (1992).


Brigitte Bardot (born September 28, 1934) is a former French model, actress, dancer and singer from a bourgeois background who became an international sex symbol. Discovered by Roger Vadim at age 14, she went on to become France's biggest star and the symbol for a new breed of free 1960s femininity and sexuality. She helped to popularize French cinema, the bikini, free love and St Tropez. Since retiring from acting in the early 1970s she has devoted herself to animal rights and is the founder and chair of The Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the welfare and protection of animals.

Brigitte Bardot
actress Brigitte Bardot

Childhood in Paris 

Brigitte Bardot was born in her parents’ flat in the 15th arrondissement of Paris on September 28th 1934. Her father, Louis ‘Pilou’ Bardot, was a trained engineer who worked in the family business, Charles Bardot and Company, manufacturers of liquid air and acetylene. Her mother, Anne-Marie ‘Toty’ Mucel was a strict but cultured woman with a particular interest in music and dance. A second child, Brigitte’s younger sister Mijanou, was born in 1938. By then the family had moved to the bourgeois heartland of the 16th arrondissement. In their formative years, both girls were sent to a Catholic school. 

At the age of 7, Brigitte’s mother enrolled her to study dance with Marcelle Bourgat, a former star of the Paris Opera. In 1947, at the age of 13, she was accepted as a student at the distinguished Conservatoire National de Danse, where, for three years, she attended the ballet classes of Russian choreographer Boris Knyazev. It was here she developed the perfect posture and elegant way of walking so characteristic of her unique style in the years to come. 

Brigitte BardotBrigitte BardotBrigitte BardotBrigitte BardotBrigitte BardotBrigitte Bardot

Through one of her mother’s contacts, Brigitte was hired to model in a fashion show in 1949. This led to a fashion shoot for the magazine Jardin des Modes, which in turn led to a photo assignment for Elle magazine. She appeared on the cover of the 2 May 1949 issue with the credit, BB. While babysitting for a friend, a budding twenty-one-year-old screenwriter by the name of Roger Vadim picked up this particular edition of Elle and was so taken with the picture that he showed the magazine to film director Marc Allégret, for whom he was working as an assistant at the time. Allégret agreed to give Bardot a screen test for his next film but was unimpressed by the results and didn’t give her the part. It appeared that Brigitte’s acting career was over before it had begun.


Roger Vadim, however, was infatuated with Bardot, and remained convinced that she had the makings of a movie star. Some months after the screen test he called her number on a whim and was lucky enough to get Brigitte on the line rather than her over-protective mother, who would almost certainly have hung up on him. Brigitte, however, was excited to hear from him, explaining that her parents were away for the weekend, and she invited him over. Watched over by her grandmother, they spent the afternoon together. A few days later he showed up again, much to the disapproval of Pilou and Toty who were unimpressed by Vadim’s uncut hair and lack of a permanent job. However, the couple continued to see each other, and soon after her fifteenth birthday Brigitte announced that she and Vadim would be married.

Brigitte’s parents did everything they could to keep her from making what they believed to be such a serious mistake. They wanted her to get her high school baccalaureate. They wanted her to continue with her dancing. They insisted that she could not marry until she was eighteen. Pilou even threatened Vadim with a revolver, warning him that if he ever touched his little girl, he’d use it. The harder Brigitte tried to persuade them, the more they resisted. It was all too much for the Brigitte, who, one evening when the rest of the family was out, put her head in the oven and turned on the gas. By chance her parents returned early and managed to save her in time.

Bowing to the inevitable, Brigitte’s parents allowed their daughter to continue seeing Vadim, who was already preparing her for future stardom by insisting she take acting classes. Meanwhile she continued modelling and undertook her first and only contract as a professional dancer on a 15-day cruise ship around the Atlantic Islands.

Back in Paris, Brigitte’s film career began with a small part in Jean Boyer’s 1952 film Le Trou normand. It was an inauspicious start for Bardot who didn’t like the role she played, didn’t feel she knew what she was doing, and was not happy with her acting or the slow and mechanical process of making films. Nevertheless, almost immediately after, she went in front of the camera again when Vadim secured her the title role in Willy Rozier’s Manina – La fille sans voile (The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter). Shot in the summer of 1952, Brigitte spent most of the film scantily clad in a bikini. Her father was outraged and demanded cuts. Rozier compromised by agreeing to allow a judicial referee to see the film before it was officially released. In November 1952, with Brigitte now eighteen, the referee ruled that the film was decent and could be shown without any risk to her honour.

In December Brigitte and Vadim were finally married. There were two ceremonies. The first was a civil ceremony at the town hall that served the 16th arrondissement. The second took place the following day at Notre Dame de Grace in Passy. After a brief honeymoon at Megeve, the couple returned to their own one-bedroom flat on the rue Chardon-Lagache, a gift from Brigitte’s parents.
During their first few years together, Bardot and Vadim developed a remarkable partnership. He shaped and influenced the way she spoke, what she wore, and her famous pout. Most importantly he changed the colour of her hair, turning her into a blonde. “Whenever I walked or undressed or ate breakfast,” she later remembered, “I always had the impression he was looking at me with someone else’s eyes and with everyone’s eyes. Yet, I knew he wasn’t seeing me, but through me his dream.”

Having created this new Bardot, Vadim signed her up with an influential agent. Together they got her cast in a quick succession of mostly forgettable movies, including La Portrait de son père (His Father’s Portrait, 1953), Act of Love(1953) starring Kirk Douglas, Si Versailles m’etait conte (Affairs in Versailles, 1954). Tradita (Concert of Intrigue, 1954), and Futures Vedettes (Sweet Sixteen, 1955). This last film was co-written by Vadim and directed by Marc Allégret, who had now reconsidered his earlier assessment of the young actress. Vadim and Brigitte collaborated on the dialogue together, modifying the lines to fit her carefully crafted persona.

Making Waves 

But none of these film appearances had anything like the impact of Brigitte’s appearance at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. The beach at Cannes was already crowded with stars when Bardot showed up in a bathing suit. Immediately, the photographers, orchestrated by Vadim, focused their attention on her. They photographed her on the beach and in front of the Carlton hotel. Then a photo opportunity was arranged for a group of famous stars on the aircraft carrier Midway anchored offshore. Brigitte managed to get herself invited too and when she slipped off her raincoat to reveal herself wrapped in a tiny dress, the sailors went wild. Still a relative unknown, she had stolen the limelight from some of the biggest film stars in the world.

Her growing fame brought the offer of a role in a British comedy, Doctor at Sea, staring Dirk Bogarde. At a press conference for the film, Brigitte packed the ballroom at the Dorchester Hotel in London and captivated the journalists with her witty replies to their hackneyed questions. “She is every man’s idea of the girl he’d like to meet in Paris,” wrote the film-critic Ivon Addams.

Back in France she worked with Michele Morgan and Gérard Philipe in Les Grandes Manoeuvres (Summer Maneuvers, 1955), as the sexy temptress in La Lumière d’en Face (The Light Across the Street, 1955), as Andraste in Robert Wise’sHelen of Troy (1956), bathing in milk in Mio Figlio Nerone (Nero’s Big Weekend, 1956) and tantalizing in the screwball comedy En Effeuillant la Marguerite (Mam’zelle Striptease, 1956). All the time, Vadim continued to feed stories about her to an increasingly hungry press.

And God Created Woman 

Roger Vadim was still only 26 years old when he wrote the screenplay for the film that would catapult Bardot to international stardom and launch his own directing career. He had been planning the move for years but the breakthrough came when he met and teamed up with another ambitious young man, producer Raoul Lévy. Vadim’s screenplay was a melodramatic tale of love, marriage and betrayal set in Saint-Tropez. Levy not only agreed to back the project, he was willing to let Vadim direct, a very unusual concession at the time when most first-time directors were in the forties or fifties. Vadim also managed to persuade him that that film should be in colour and wide-screen Cinemascope. Levy then set to work trying to find financial partners but it wasn’t easy as Vadim later recalled, “In 1955 Raoul was a hard-up producer and I was a novice writer. Our first project brought shrugs of disbelief from film people who advised us to buy a lottery ticket instead.” Eventually a former band leader, Ray Ventura, agreed to co-produce the film, and once they had signed up the established actor Curt Jurgens and Columbia studios had agreed to distribute it, they had enough money to begin production.

The film was shot quickly in May and June 1956, on location in St Tropez and at the Victorine Studios in Nice. In the story Bardot plays eighteen-year old orphan Juliette, a seductive beauty whose habit of sunbathing naked and walking around the town barefoot, attracts the attention of various men. Her suitors include wealthy middle-aged businessman Eric Carradine (Curt Jurgens) and the local Tardieu brothers, Antoine (Christian Marquand) and Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Sparking rivalry between the brothers by agreeing to marry Michel but sleeping with Antoine, she also continues to toy with Carradine’s affections, putting on a frenzied dance for him in the neighbourhood bar, leading to a confrontation and a final shoot out.

While the storyline was relatively conventional, it was the audacity of Bardot’s performance and the frank portrayal of sexuality on screen that made contemporary audiences react so strongly. “She does whatever she wants,” Eric says of Juliette, “whenever she wants.” This was a new kind of woman, untamed and untroubled by conventional morality; Vadim had captured perfectly what was unique and special about Brigitte’s character and people responded. They didn’t know whether to be shocked or excited. The censor reacted predictably with outrage and demanded cuts. He reprimanded Vadim for the scene in which Bardot gets out of bed and walks naked across a room and insisted it be cut. Vadim told him he had imagined the scene, that in fact she was wearing a long shirt in the shot. The censor remained sure he’d seen her naked, forcing Vadim to rerun the film again to prove otherwise. “That was one of the most amazing things about Brigitte’s presence on film,” Vadim later recalled, “people often thought she was naked when she wasn’t.”

When Et Dieu… Créa la femme (And God Created Woman) opened in Paris in 1956 the reviews were damning. “What a terrible image this film will give of France as portrayed by the vulgarity of Mlle Bardot,” wrote one. Initially the box office returns were poor and it looked like the film would sink without trace; that is until it began opening around the rest of the world. Before the film opened in London the British censor demanded cuts, but it didn’t stop the film being released in cinemas across the country to great success. In America the Catholic Church tried to have the film banned but the scandal only added to the publicity. It became the first French film ever to out-sell a homegrown blockbuster when it topped the charts ahead of big Hollywood films like The Ten CommandmentsLife magazine commented, ‘Since the Statue of Liberty, no French girl has ever shone quite as much light on the United States.’ Based on the unbelievable response to the film throughout the rest of the world, it was re-released and became a huge success in France too.

New Life, New Loves 

While filming Et Dieu… Créa la femme, Brigitte had fallen in love with her co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant. At first it seemed merely an attempt to make Vadim jealous, but when he didn’t get jealous it became something more serious. As for Vadim, he had seen the end coming for some time: “I’d liberated Brigitte and shown her how to be truly herself. That was the beginning of the end of our marriage. From that moment, our marriage went downhill.” For Bardot, Trintignant offered an alternative to a life of constant hectic socializing in film studios and cocktail parties. He was a quiet young man who read poetry, and, unlike her stormy relationship with her husband, they never argued. Her separation from Vadim, which took place in 1957, was a civilized affair. “I’ve never seen any divorce go as smoothly,” he later recalled. They stayed good friends and he remained an important confidant for her in the years to come.

In the wake of Et Dieu créa la femme, Bardot was a hot property and continued making films at a steady pace, includingLa Mariée est trop belle (The Bride Is Much Too Beautiful, 1956) with Louis Jordan, La Parisienne (1957), and Les Bijoutiers du clair de lune (Heaven Fell That Night, 1958) again directed by Jean Vadim. Otto Preminger wanted to cast her as the wayward daughter in his adaptation of Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, but on Vadim’s advice she turned it down. She also turned down an opportunity to make a film with Frank Sinatra because it would mean upping sticks and moving to America. Instead she starred with Jean Gabin in En cas de malheur (Love Is My Profession, 1958).
At the end of 1958 Cinémonde magazine voted Bardot and Gabin their number one stars. But she wasn’t just popular in France; she was beginning to top popularity lists in countries across the world. Such immense fame brought with it the constant attention of the press, who pursued her relentlessly. She often felt trapped and admitted to friends that she felt she was missing out on a normal life. Her relationship with Jean-Louis Trintignant had lasted only six months, after which she had even briefer flings with actor Gustavo Rojo and singer Gilbert Becaud.

Looking for a refuge, she bought a house in the small coastal town of St Tropez and began spending whatever time off she had there. It was here she met the singer Sacha Distel. Their whirlwind love affair became front-page news. Photographers followed them from St Tropez to Paris. Mob scenes greeted them in Italy when they attended the Venice Film Festival together in 1958. For a while there was serious talk of marriage but the burden of being engaged to Brigitte became too difficult for Distel to bear. “She needed the man she was in love with to be with her constantly, to do the things she wanted to do, and to take second place,” he later lamented, although his association with her did no harm to his budding career. By the end of the summer their romance was just a memory.


Brigitte’s next film was a comedy set in World War II, Babette s’en Va-t-en Guerre (Babette Goes to War, 1959). Her co-star was a good-looking young twenty-two-year-old actor named Jacques Charrier. During shooting in Paris and London, Brigitte quickly fell for Charrier. After filming they went on holiday together to Chamonix-les-Houches. Staying in a chalet, isolated by a snowstorm, Brigitte got pregnant. As soon as she found out she called Vadim and asked his advice. He knew that she didn’t like children, yet he advised her to have the child because if she didn’t she might regret it. When he found out, Charrier insisted that not only must she have the child but they must get married as soon as possible.

The ceremony took place in a quiet Paris suburb. Despite attempts to keep it secret, someone tipped off the press who besieged the church. During the ceremony there were flashbulbs going off constantly and an argument broke out between Brigitte’s father and the local mayor who was conducting the event. It was an ill omen for a marriage that seemed jinxed from the start. First Charrier suffered an attack of appendicitis and was forced into hospital. Before he had recovered, Brigitte had to start work on her next film, Voulez vous dancer avec moi (Come and Dance With Me). No sooner was Charrier out of hospital than he was called up by the army for military service. In the barracks, he was taunted mercilessly by the other men. He lost 20 pounds, had a breakdown and tried to slit his wrists.

Released for a year on compassionate grounds, he returned to live with Brigitte in her Paris apartment. Already the press were camped outside awaiting the birth of the child. It became virtually impossible for her to leave the apartment. ‘It was inhuman what the press put me through,” Bardot recalled in an interview many years later. “I couldn’t take a walk. I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t go to see my doctor. I couldn’t even go to have my baby in a hospital. I was encircled by the press from all over the world.” Finally on Monday 11 January 1960, Nicholas Charrier was born. However his birth failed to bring out the maternal instincts Vadim had predicted. “How could you expect me to raise a child when I still needed my mother?” She commented later. Bardot would only see Nicholas intermittently through his childhood, and not until she was in her sixties and he was married with two children, would they have a lasting reconciliation.

Cracking Up 

Six weeks after the birth, Brigitte had a small part in L’Affair d’une nuit (It Happened at Night, 1960). This was followed by the leading role in Henri-Georges Cluzot’s La Verite (The Truth, 1960). In the film she played Dominique, a young girl from the provinces who comes to Paris and gets caught up in the bohemian life. When she discovers her lover is having an affair, she kills him and is put on trial for murder. Unable to explain to anybody her inner torment, she slashes her wrists.
Filming proved fraught with Brigitte struggling to cope with the pressures of constant press intrusion and the jealousy of her husband over her love scenes with handsome young co-star Sami Frey. To calm her down Cluzot prepared her for certain scenes by doping her with tranquillizers and whiskey. The film was a critical and commercial success and Brigitte later considered it her favourite film, but Cluzot’s often-tyrannical methods did nothing to help her nerves. There were fights between them on the set. During one of these, Brigitte slapped the director and called him a psychopath. The press speculated that the two of them were having an affair, though the truth was she was actually seeing her co-star Frey.

By the end of the filming Brigitte was at the end of her tether. In love with Sami Frey but unsure whether she wanted to end her marriage to Charrier, she left them both to take a holiday with her friend Mercedes Zavka in a secluded villa in a tiny coastal village where the press would never think to find her. For the first couple of weeks, the pair lived like carefree recluses. Brigitte went under a false name and wore a headscarf and sunglasses when outside. Inevitably a photographer spotted her. The word got out and soon the paparazzi were camped outside the villa.
The next day was Brigitte’s 26th birthday. She tried to carry on as normal, having lunch at a beachside restaurant, but somebody took a photograph. It was the last straw for Brigitte. That evening she went for a walk and didn’t come back. She was found sitting at the bottom of the garden. She’d slashed her wrists and taken an overdose of barbiturates. An ambulance was called and took her to a clinic in Nice. The next day doctors at the clinic issued a statement saying that she was out of danger, although adding that she was suffering from acute depression. They also acknowledged she’d come within minutes of dying. Brigitte left the clinic on the 2nd of October and returned to her house in St Tropez. Within a few weeks she was seen shopping in the village as normal accompanied by Roger Vadim who had helped her through the crisis. Bardot’s divorce from Jacques Charrier was finalized in 1962. In an uncontested plea, Charrier was awarded custody of Nicholas.

The Last Act 

Following Viva Maria!, Bardot’s film appearances became more infrequent. She had a cameo in Godard’s Masculin, Feminin (1966), starred in the woeful A Coeur joie (Two Weeks in September, 1967), appeared opposite Alain Delon in the Edgar Allan Poe compendium Histoires extraordinaires (1968), and opposite Sean Connery in the lacklustre westernShalako (1968). The attractions of the movie business had long faded for her. “The cinema is an absurd world. I decided to live my life as I am, not as anyone else wanted me to be. When I’m working, that’s fine. But when I stop and think about all of that, I am horrified by the extraordinary image that has been created around me."
Her indifference lead to some cavalier choices throughout her career, especially towards the end. Her final films includedLes Femmes (1969), L’Ours et la poupée (The Bear and the Doll, 1970), Boulevard du Rhum (Rum Runners, 1971), andLes Petroleuses (The Legend of Frenchie King, 1971). Fittingly, her final film before she announced her retirement was directed by Roger Vadim. Don Juan ou si Don Juan était une femme (1973) starred Bardot as a female Don Juan. It should have been a memorable swansong but instead turned out to be another disappointment. In 1973, at the age of 39, Brigitte had had enough. 


Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a young hoodlum who models himself after Humphrey Bogart. After stealing a car in Marseille, he heads for Paris, gunning down a cop on the way. Once in the capital he meets up with American student Patricia (Jean Seberg), an aspiring journalist who sells copies of the New York Herald Tribune on the Champs-Elysee. Patricia agrees to hide him while he tries to trace a former associate who owes him money so that he can evade the police dragnet and make a break for Italy. But as the authorities close in, she betrays him, leading to a final shoot out in the street.

“To make a film all you need is a girl and a gun.” Jean-Luc Godard’s oft-quoted line might have come from the mouth of any tough-talking, American movie director from Hollywood’s classic era. The fact that it was spoken by a 29-year-old Franco-Swiss intellectual from Paris says much about the cross-cultural pollination that was so crucial to birth of the New Wave and to what is often considered its flagship film: À bout de souffle. Indeed the film’s simple story resembles a classic American film noir, such as those made by Monogram Studios, to whom the film is dedicated. But Godard approached the story in ways that departed radically from past genre archetypes. His years as a critic, his immersion in both high and low culture, his philosophical explorations, all impacted on his debut feature film. As he said in an interview, the film was the result of “a decade’s worth of making movies in my head.” The fact that he was relatively inexperienced and had little knowledge of the practical aspects of filmmaking proved unimportant. What he did have were an accumulation of original ideas, which he applied fearlessly to the aesthetic and technical elements of the film. The results were nothing less than a cinematic revolution.

It was Francois Truffaut who, several years earlier, first sketched out the outline for what would become À bout de souffle. He had been inspired by a true story that had fascinated tabloid France in 1952, when a man named Michel Portail, a petty criminal who had stolen a car, shot a motorcycle policeman who pulled him over, and then hid out for almost two weeks until he was found in a canoe docked in the centre of Paris. One aspect of the story that had appealed to Truffaut was the fact that Portail had an American journalist girlfriend who he had tried to convince to run away with him. Instead she turned him into the police. Truffaut had collaborated with both Claude Chabrol and Godard on the story but had failed to interest any producers. By 1959, Godard, now desperate to catch up with his Cahiers colleagues and make a first feature film, asked if he might revive the project. Truffaut, buoyant with success after the ecstatic reception of Les Quatre cents coups at Cannes, not only agreed, but also helped to convince Georges de Beauregard to produce the film.

With a low budget of 510,000 francs (a third of the average cost of a French film at that time), Godard set about casting for the film. He suggested to Beauregard that they hire Jean Seberg, the young actress who had made an uncertain start in pictures on Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan and Bonjour Tristesse, as the American woman. Although most critics had disparaged both films, Godard had written admiringly about Seberg in the pages of Cahiers du cinema. Unimpressed by the director at their first meeting, describing him as “an incredibly introverted, messy-looking young man with glasses, who didn’t look her in the eye when she talked,” she was, nevertheless, encouraged by her husband, a French attorney with directing ambitions of his own, to accept the role. Persuading Columbia Studios to lend her out for the film was less easy, but again her husband stepped in and managed to convince the studio to accept a small cash payment for her participation. As for Jean-Paul Belmondo, Godard had already promised him the lead role in his first film. Belmondo, who was beginning to get lucrative offers from the mainstream film industry, ignored the warning words of his agent who told him, “you’re making the biggest mistake of your life,” and accepted the part.

With his cast in place, Godard set about knocking Truffaut’s story outline into a screenplay. His original plan had been to use the outline as it was and merely add dialogue to it. Instead he rewrote the entire story, shifting the emphasis away from Truffaut’s portrayal of an anguished young man who turns to crime out of despair, to that of a young hoodlum with an existential indifference to common morality and the rule of law. Crucially, in the new version, the American woman Patricia comes into the narrative near the beginning and their love story dominates the film.

Filming took place over the summer of 1959. Behind the camera was Raoul Coutard, originally a documentary cameraman for the French army’s information service in Indochina during the war. Coutard’s background suited Godard who wanted the film to be shot, as much as possible, like a documentary, with a handheld camera and the minimum of lighting. This decision was taken for both aesthetic reasons – making the film look like a newsreel – and practical reasons – saving the time setting up lights and tripod. Flexibility was very important to Godard, who wanted the freedom to improvise and shoot whenever and wherever he wanted without too many technical constraints. He and Coutard devised ways – such as using a wheelchair for tracking shots and shooting with specialist lowlight filmstock for nighttime scenes – to make this possible. Godard’s method of directing A bout de souffle was even more radical than his technical innovations. Much to the producer Beauregard’s disapproval, he often only filmed for a couple of hours a day. 

Sometimes, when lacking the necessary inspiration, he would cancel the day’s filming altogether. Early on in the shoot, he discarded the screenplay he had written and decided to write the dialogue day by day as the production went along. The actors found this procedure strange and sometimes forgot their lines, however, since the soundtrack was to be post-synchronized later, when the actor’s were lost for words, Godard would call out their lines to them from behind the camera. For Godard the act of making a film was as much a part of its meaning as its content and style. Like “action painting” he felt a film reflected the conditions under which it was made, and that a director’s technique was the method by which a film could be made personal.

Godard’s unorthodox methods continued in the editing suite. His first cut of À bout de souffle was two-and-a-half hours long but Beauregard had required he deliver a ninety-minute film. Rather than cutting out whole scenes, he decided to cut within scenes, even within shots. This use of deliberate jump cuts was unheard of in professional filmmaking where edits were designed to be as seamless as possible. He also cut between shots from intentionally disorienting angles that broke all the traditional rules of continuity. By deliberately appearing amateurish Godard drew attention to the conventions of classic cinema, revealing them for what they were, merely conventions.

It wasn’t only in the montage of images that Godard expressed his personality, but also through the rich depth of references to cinema, literature, and art. À bout de souffle abounds with quotations of movies by directors such as Samuel Fuller, Joseph H. Lewis, Otto Preminger and any number of classic film noirs. There are also quotations and references to writers such as Faulkner, Dylan Thomas, and Louis Aragon, as well as painters like Picasso, Renoir and Klee. Reflecting the film’s cultural heritage, American iconography and influence is everywhere: in the cars (Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles), Michel’s obsession with Humphrey Bogart, and the jaunty, improvised jazz score (played by French pianist Martial Solal). Godard also included his friends in the film. He asked Jean-Pierre Melville to play the celebrated novelist who Patricia interviews at Orly Airport (the other journalists were all played by friends such as André S. Labarthe and Jean Douchet), and Jacques Rivette had a cameo role as a man run over in the street. Godard himself played the informer who recognizes Michel in the street and turns him in.

On a deeper level, Godard used the film’s framework to explore some of the themes which preoccupied him, and which he would continue to explore for years to come. Some of the key ideas of existentialism, such as stressing the individual’s importance over society’s rules and the evident absurdity of life, lie at the core of the narrative. Death is an everyday event and generally treated with indifference. The impossibility of love, another central Godardian theme, is played out in the relationship between Michel and Patricia. In the long hotel room scene, which takes up nearly a third of the screen time, the two lovers talk, joke, argue and fool about, but frequently fail to completely understand each other. Michel’s use of slang is often lost on Patricia. That she fails to even understand his dying words sums up the flawed nature of their relationship.

Although Godard was the last of his Cahiers du cinema colleagues to make a film – Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer and Rivette had all completed or at least shot their debuts before À bout de souffle went into production – it was A bout de souffle that became the cornerstone of the New Wave, and is still the film that defines the movement in the public mind. Sight and Sound magazine called it “the group’s intellectual manifesto” and it, more than any other film of the time, captured the New Wave revolt against traditional cinematic form. It also had a youthful exuberance and a pair of leading actors whose style and attitude seemed to epitomize a new generation of youth. In one fell swoop, Godard had succeeded in making the movement representative of the times, defined cinema as the artform of the moment, and personally become one of its most important figures.

A bout de souffle was an immediate success. In January 1960, just before the film’s release it won the annual Jean Vigo Prize, given to films made with an independent spirit. The critics were unanimous in their praise, recognizing the film as the greatest accomplishment yet to come out of the New Wave. One wrote: “The terms ‘old cinema’ and ‘new cinema’ now have meaning… with À bout de souffle, the generation gap can suddenly be felt.” Celebrated British critic Penelope Gilliat commented that: “Jean-Luc Godard makes a film as though no one had ever made one before.” When it opened in four commercial cinemas in Paris, it immediately drew large crowds. In the end its profits were estimated to be fifty times the original investment. More importantly, it inspired a generation of filmmakers – for whom Godard had become the embodiment of the New Wave and the archetypal cinematic intellectual – to emulate what he had done. Now, 50 years after its release, the film’s impact and its popularity with critics and the public has not diminished. It continues to influence both directors and the wider culture, and every few years a new generation discovers and falls in love with its unique charm all over again.


The French New Wave was as much a revolution in performance as in direction. The young critics turned filmmakers behind such audaciously original films as “The 400 Blows,” “Breathless,” and “The Cousins” also discovered the actors to bring their style to life. One of those crucial performers, Bernadette Lafont, who was discovered as a teen-ager by François Truffaut and cast as the lead in his 1957 short film, “Les Mistons” (“The Mischief Makers”), died last week at the age of seventy-four.
The New Wave style was an impulsive one, of youthful insolence tinged with self-conscious theatricality, and Lafont had a natural gift for both, as seen in the treasure trove of movies that she sparked in the sixties and seventies: Claude Chabrol’s first feature, “Le Beau Serge,” from 1958, and three movies that he made soon thereafter, which may well be his masterpieces, “À Double Tour” (“Double Locked”), “Les Bonnes Femmes,” and “Les Godelureaux” (“The Fops”); my favorite film by Truffaut, “A Gorgeous Girl Like Me”; Jacques Rivette’s nearly thirteen-hour, quasi-improvised Balzacian extravaganza, “Out 1”; and an emotionally shattering, historically earthshaking film by Jean Eustache, one of the crucial sons of the New Wave, “The Mother and the Whore.”

Further Reading