Film School: Lessons from the French New Wave

Shake up your storytelling with techniques from French masters and their American contemporaries.

Got the fundamentals of editing down? Know your shot/reverse-shot just too well? Lewis Bond at The Cinema Cartography examines the rules broken by the French New Wave, or La Nouvelle Vague, and whose influence can be traced in some of the most well-known American cinema since:

Whenever camera moves were typically used for a scene, they would use editing. And whenever editing was typically used, they used camera movement.

Bond acknowledges that, while New Wave films share no defining characteristics as such – the movement was about breaking rules, inventing new ways of doing things – the techniques they shared tended to swap the roles and functions of film-making:

  • Discontinuous editing – “cutting out the boring bits” was an approach used not merely between scenes, but during. Famously, Jean-Luc Godard utilised jump cuts purely to reduce the runtime of Breathless – the effect, however, both generates a unique energy within the story, and draws the viewer’s attention to the viewing experience itself
  • Camera movement – reframing was often used where cuts otherwise would have been: combining transitions and establishing shots; covering shot / reverse shot in dialogue; hinting at “a world outside of what we see”.

Preserving movement, but distorting space and time.

The French New Wave’s influence on American cinema can be seen in the years following – which Now You See It argues can be divided into “the era before Bonnie & Clyde, and the era after Bonnie & Clyde“:

(Warning: contains scenes portraying graphic violence)

Inventive ways to tell a story without having to cut at all? Every Frame A Painting takes us all to The Spielberg School of Reframing:

How about combining the two? Steven Soderbergh‘s Oceans movies are built on intricate and entertaining cropped-frame montages full of reframing and New Wave-style cutting:

Further Viewing

Nerdwriter traces the influence of (and influences on) Godard’s Breathless:

The influence of French as well as Asian rule-breakers get look-ins in this broad-but-inspiring selection (via Cinefix):