An world had changed. After the liberation of

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An aesthetic can be defined as a set of principles common to a particular artist or movement, whereas a technique is defined as the way in which an individual performs a specific task. In this essay, the way in which the French New Wave era was born, including historical context, will be discussed. In Jean-Luc Godard?s film À Bout de soufflé, various techniques and aesthetical elements that are familiar to the French New Wave movement are used and this essay will explore the way in which Godard utilized these techniques to create what the film world knows to be one of the most groundbreaking films at the start of a new era of film.   During the late 1950s and 1960s, a post-war France suffered financial and cultural starvation due to German occupation of the country during the Second World War. France had reverted back to pre-war traditions, even though much of the society?s attitudes towards politics, youth culture, love, employment and France?s position in the world had changed. After the liberation of France from Nazi censorship and control, cinema became an integral part of French society once again and previously banned French, as well as foreign films began to takeover French cinemas. However, straight narrative cinema was still the main method of filmmaking. The mainstream films that were produced after the war were primarily based on literary pieces and had no accurate depiction of the daily lives of post-war French youth. Some film critics saw these films as unoriginal and failing to show life as it really was, as they were only being made in studios with the actors bound by script therefore lacking a sense of realism. Furthermore, as the directors of these mainstream films were in a large part being employed by film studios, they were more concerned about catering to the needs of the producers and the screenwriters, leaving them therefore with little creative freedom.  3  In 1951, a French film magazine named Cahiers du cinema was co-founded by French film theorist and critic André Bazin. Eventually the magazine sought to employ Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette as essayists, all of whom were regular attendees of various cine clubs around Paris. They all shared a mutual passion for film that would later define them as “cinephiles”. Among the films that were being shown to the public during this time were Italian neo-realism films, as well as classic Hollywood films. The Cahiers team in particular had a strong appreciation for them. Rather than praising standard Hollywood fare, directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and John Ford were held up in admiration instead for rebelling against the restrictions they were given by the studios and for developing their own distinctive style when it comes to making and directing films. Although it was never a formally organized movement, these film critics eventually became known as the fathers of the French New Wave movement, bringing with them a modern approach and their own unique dynamism. By the end of the 1950s, these film critics then began to write and direct their own films. The movement stemmed from a mutual frustration for conventional cinema and filmmaking techniques and even now, French New Wave still remains to be one of the biggest cinematic revolutions in history and has shaken the international film scene with its radical new approach of portraying a story visually ever since its birth.   One of the most influential directors of the French New Wave movement was Jean-Luc Godard who, like his colleagues, was dedicated to overthrowing what the Cahiers team called “Le cinéma du papa” (literal translation being “Dad?s cinema”). He sought to replace the supercilious formalities of popular French cinema with a fresh, youthful spirit that celebrated an innovative and spontaneous style of filming. Although it was André Bazin who first speculated the auteur theory, Godard strongly supported the notion that a film should be representative of a director?s creative as well as personal vision. He was, to some extent, inexperienced when it came to the technical aspects of filmmaking. On the other hand all the years he spent as a Cahiers critic, witnessing the many different parts of society, allowed him to develop his own opinions about the world and accumulate his own collection of original ideas that he 4  could utilize. With his debut feature film À Bout de soufflé (or Breathless), Godard brought a fearless approach to movie making and exerted his ideas to the technical and aesthetical elements of the film. The results of this were groundbreaking, and À Bout de soufflé remains to be one of the first and most influential films affiliated with French New Wave.   During his time working for Cahiers du cinema, Godard was inspired by Italian neo-realism films, and the way in which the directors of these films, despite a lack of funding and financial support as a result of World War II, made use of the locations that were offered to them. This in turn became one of the trademarks of French New Wave films, and was one of the first techniques that Godard used when making À Bout de soufflé. His refusal of being constrained to the setting of a studio went completely against the conventional methods of cinema practice. Godard favoured shooting at real locations rather than using constructed sets, making use of what was available regardless of the size of the budget. Having handheld shots also allowed Godard to evoke a feeling of spontaneity in the film and give a sense of realism to the film. In À Bout de soufflé, the camera is used to follow characters around, whether that is them walking on the streets, going into a café, or just a simple over the shoulder shot to show the audience their point of view. One scene in particular is the scene where Michel and Patricia can be seen walking down a busy Parisian road. Bystanders can be seen looking towards the camera and at the protagonists as they are walking away and the reason for this was that Godard also liked to avoid crowd control. This makes it feel like the camera is merely observing the streets of Paris as they really were. Another example would be the scenes in which Godard chooses to shoot his main characters from behind, where the focus of these shots is not to show the audience what the character is looking like or feeling like, but rather to give the impression that everyone, even the main characters, are in some way faced with a conflict of their own. Combined with a few shots of famous French landmarks placed within the film, the audience is given an objective view of Paris and a fly-on-the-wall feeling from watching this movie, typical to what can be seen and felt with documentaries.    5  Because of advances in technology, the use of a lightweight handheld camera allowed Godard to quicken the way in which a scene was shot. The camera also served to create a feeling of intimacy, as it allowed the cinematographer to get really close to the characters, something that larger, bulkier cameras could not accommodate. Godard?s cinematographer for À Bout de soufflé was a man named Raoul Coutard, who was originally a documentary cameraman. His background in filming proved to suit Godard well as he was determined to shoot his film in the most neutral and easiest way possible. He did not want to be faced with any technical limitations and with the handheld camera he could avoid having to set up a tripod and could use natural lighting instead of setting up studio lights for each scene. This in turn gave him a lot of flexibility when shooting. Godard urged Coutard to go handheld at all time and when this wasn?t possible, they invented unorthodox yet experimental methods to obtain specific shots, such as using a wheelchair instead of a dolly for long tracking shots. Tracking shots was another common technique used in the making of Nouvelle Vague films. One such example of a tracking shot is the scene in which Michel is walking through a travel agency. In À Bout de soufflé, Godard uses this method to his advantage, in a bid to show the audience the imperfections of life as it is. Camera movement was also a repeated practice in French New Wave films. In typical Hollywood films, a feeling of tension would be portrayed to the audience through how the director chooses to edit his film. Godard dealt with this in an alternative way. In À Bout de soufflé, there is a scene where Patricia hides from a policeman by running into the woman?s bathroom. Instead of heavily editing the scene, Godard uses the camera to pan from one person to the other, which summons an even bigger feeling of tension as with the panning movement the audience is forced to wait to see what is happening. Taking influence from documentaries of the time along with the aid of lighter, more flexible cameras, Godard was able to encapsulate a fly-on-the-wall feeling, where the viewer feels like he is merely observing what is happening.   Another prominent technique associated with French New Wave films was the use of the jump cut. A jump cut is used primarily to show the difference between space and time in two shots. Prior to New Wave, the main goal of editing was to ensure it goes unnoticed to an audience and continuity was 6  used to keep a scene going at a regular pace. When À Bout de soufflé was premiered, the heavy use of jump cuts throughout the film served to bewilder the audience as it was unheard of and didn?t follow the etiquette of editing that is evident in standard Hollywood films. Although Godard did not create this technique, he was the first contemporary director to utilize jump-cuts in a narrative film. Godard?s first draft of À Bout de soufflé turned out to be around one hundred and eighty minutes long although what was expected of him was a ninety minute film. Instead of cutting out whole scenes, Godard utilized jump cuts to cut within the scenes itself, contrasting the picture instead of complimenting it. By doing this, Godard set up a disproportion between the duration in the actual story and the duration in what can be seen on screen. One example of this is the part where Patricia is sitting in Michel?s car, and the scene jumps from her sitting with her hands on her lap to her holding a mirror up to her face. In traditional cinema, the use of jump cuts were rejected as it would throw the audience off-guard and separated the audience from the drama they were watching on-screen. For the French New Wave directors, this is exactly what they wanted. The use of jump cuts in À Bout de soufflé evokes a lost sense of time and serves to distance the audience from the story, however still giving the audience freedom to interpret gaps in a scene with their own imagination.   While the development of camera technology had improved drastically, sound recording was not always easy for New Wave directors. Lacking the funds to gain access to portable recorders, many of them approached sound recording in an alternative way. While most Hollywood films boast having clean sound without any noise pollution, the New Wave directors used what sound was available to them depending on the location of their shoot. In the middle of À Bout de soufflé, Patricia and Michel have a lengthy conversation in her apartment. In the background, cars and street noise can be heard and Godard uses this to his advantage and incorporates the background sounds within the scene itself. While Godard shot the film without sound, most of these background noises that can be heard were synced in the postproduction period. A lot of the dialogue in the film was also dubbed as Godard would frequently feed his actors lines on the spot as well as encourage them to improvise their lines as much as possible as what 7  would happen in real life. By keeping the sound raw and unaltered, regardless of whether it featured mistakes or not, it gave the film a certain freshness that had not been evident in any of the more classical films in that time period.   Another technique which French New Wave directors are known for using is breaking the fourth wall. Breaking the fourth wall is a theatrical term used to describe the invisible barrier between the audience and the characters they were watching on screen or on a stage. In order to keep the illusion that there is a barrier between the two, actors will normally avoid looking into the camera lens. In À Bout de soufflé, there is a scene where the protagonist, Michel, turns to the camera and addresses the audience directly telling them to “get stuffed”. Because of this, the audience is given the impression that the characters are aware that they are being filmed. While in traditional cinema this would be regarded as unprofessional and amateur, Godard incorporated the use of breaking the fourth wall to aid the audience in recognizing the artifice in cinema and to detach the audience from the story, reminding them that they are merely watching a film.  In conclusion, the critics of Cahiers du cinema were mainly concerned about representing the essence of the era, something they felt traditional cinema failed to do. They broke away from the conventional “do?s and don?ts” of filmmaking and changed the rules of cinema for themselves. With Godard?s film À Bout de soufflé, he showed the film world that having enormous budgets, expensive equipment, lavish movie sets and experienced actors isn?t mandatory in producing a good film. Instead of regarding a lack of this as a limitation, Godard used this as an advantage as ways to bring a fresh, youthful spirit to his films and directors even today are imitating the technical and aesthetical aspects that Godard used. Just like how the Cahiers team taking inspiration from Italian and American films, their philosophies helped  to inspire a new generation of filmmakers, sparking what can be considered one of the biggest cinematic revolutions in history.   

Categories: Traditions


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