Just as a cautionary note, I plan on revising this when I get a chance, while I did receive an A+ on this essay, I believe that it kind of drags at points, and since I have a passion for the material I intend on revising it to truly give the material the attention it deserves, but I just really wanted to post the initial draft first.

An Investigation of the Precursors to the Nouvelle Vague
From Renoir to Resnais (1939-59

The French Nouvelle Vague film revolution has always been a subject of much discussion, but upon further investigation it becomes clear that while directors such as Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol, widely considered the figureheads of the revolution, were certainly innovative auteurs who indeed sparked a “new wave” of French cinema, the fact is that France already possessed a rich cinematic history which helped to create the environment which nurtured said “wave.” In his Book A History of the French New Wave Cinema Richard Neupert quotes film historian Colin Crisp as stating “What is not adequately emphasized in most accounts pf the origins of the New Wave is the debt owed by [these new, young] directors to the industrial and financial mechanisms put in place during the classic period to foster just such filmmaking practices. This process had been complimented by the commercialization of wartime technological breakthroughs which transformed work practices in the cinema during the period 1945-1960” Neupert himself goes on to add articulate that “Crisp fears that most contemporary historians overemphasize the New Wave’s ‘break from the past,’ when in fact French cinema had always retained a sizeable portion of nongenre, “personal” films from directors as diverse as Jean Vigo, Jean Renoir, Marcel Pagnol, and Jacques Tati.” (Neupert 36)

Both Crisp and Neupert are entirely correct the traditions of French cinema no doubt created a filmic environment in which the Nouvelle Vague flourished. This essay will be an investigation of seven such pre-Nouvelle Vague directors, starting with the poetic realism of Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu, 1939) then moving to Robert Bresson’s second feature Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945) and Jean-Pierre Melville’s second feature as well, Les Enfants Terribles (1950), both of which Jean Cocteau played large parts in, and from there moving closer to the ‘wave’ with Louis Malle’s noir-ish Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, 1957), Jacques Tati’s satirical Mon Oncle (1958) and finishing with Jean Resnais’ brilliantly ambiguous Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), while investigating the ways in which these films and their directors have ‘set the stage’ for the Nouvelle Vague.

Neupert really stated it well with “nongenre , ‘personal’ films,” one of the most interesting aspects of the films of pre-Nouvelle Vague France is the ways in which they seemed to either defy or work innovatively within the pre-existing genres of the time to present the viewer with an extremely fresh and ‘personal’ cinema. Another way in which the aforementioned films ‘paved the way’ for the Nouvelle Vague was the fact that many of the films were done outside of mainstream cinematic conventions. Many of the films were made within miniscule budgets, some of which were even produced and financed by the directors themselves, in order to retain complete creative control of the process. In doing these things the directors had to find innovative ways in which the work within such small budgets and ways to raise monetary means to film, and in doing so provided the Nouvelle Vague with blueprints from which they could launch their own cinema.

As for the social environment within which these films emerged, having chosen a twenty year period of cinematic history to focus on, the films range from (just barely) pre-WWII to quite a bit post war, and the social environment presented in these films ranges from that of the Bourgeoisie of the 1930’ and 40’s to that of the ‘modern man’ of the 1950’s, both of which the directors seem rather disenchanted with. Their dissatisfaction with the current social environment, and the ways in which films prior have dealt with said environment, sparked them to through their films innovatively shine a light upon that of which they disapproved. Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game being a key example of this, created in a rather unstable France where War was knocking on their door and yet the Bourgeois society seemed only concerned with themselves.

1939 – The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu) ~ Jean Renoir

“The Rules of the Game is the credo of film lovers, the film of films, the most despised on its release and the most valued afterward… In this ‘comedy drama,’ Renoir expresses a great number of both general and concrete ideas, without insisting on them… Along with Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game is certainly the film that sparked the careers of the greatest number of directors.”
~ Francois Truffaut (Truffaut 42)

While Renoir’s Masterpiece was originally met with a dreadful reception, it is now and has been for some time, considered to be one of the best films of all time, and one that as Truffaut stated in the aforementioned quote, had an enormous impact upon the generations of directors to come. The majority of the film is staged in Sologne, France, where the Bourgeois Robert de la Cheyniest (Marcel Dalio) is hosting a recreational hunting party, but this is simply the beginning of the story, the complexity of which arises when the idea of “love” is introduced. Truffaut stated in an introduction to a Renoir festival that, “The ‘ménage a trios’ rarely captured Renoir’s interest, but he was the inventor of the ‘ménage a quatre.’ In his world a woman loves and is loved by three men, or a man loves and is loved by three women.” (Truffaut 46) This is an astute observation, which is of course applicable to The Rules of the Game twice fold actually, with Christine de la Cheyniest (Nora Grégor) as the center of the love story for the Bourgeois love ‘square,’ with André Jurieux (Roland Toutain), Robert de la Cheyniest, Monsieur de St, Aubin (Pierre Nay) and Octave (played by Renoir himself) as her ‘lovers’ (more of a love pentagon I suppose), and Lisette, sa camériste (Christine’s servant, Paulette Dubost) as the center of the mirroring ‘servant’ love square. With so many characters one may wonder who the ‘main character’ of the story is, to this Renoir stated “There is none, the conception I had from the beginning was of a film representing a society, a group. I wanted to depict a class.” (Sesonske) This is brilliantly done through the use of lots of wide deep focused inclusive tracking shots focusing much more on the action and the group as a whole rather than the specific actions of one person at a time, a technique which Bernard Tavernier expresses well when he says “Renoir proved that he can be a virtuoso director without ever becoming a slave to technique. There is never any real center in the image; he sacrifices formal composition to life and the unexpected.” (Tavernier)

Tavernier’s statement, when one reflects upon the film, is evermore true, Renoir’s film, while it does indeed possess many interesting filmic techniques, tends to stay with a relatively simple composition which allows the viewer to take in all of the action. A perfect example of this is the way in which the ‘fight scene’ is portrayed. Chaos compounded upon chaos would be a statement which one could easily make of this scene if it were in the hands of any other director, but in this film it seems to have an entirely theatrical ‘organized chaos’ to it, where the characters seeming to ‘dance’ in and out of the camera lens, as well as rooms. The beginning of this scene is incredibly interesting, for the way in which Renoir mirrors the impending theatrical battles with actual theatrics, as the ‘troupe’ of Bourgeois guests puts on a performance, Christine sneaks away, which leads the camera to split it’s interest between drama upon the stage and the ‘real’ drama happening in the crowd as a sort of spot light follows the different dramatic happenings initially with Christine, who has had ‘a bit too much to drink’ with St. Aubin and then following Lisette as she is pursed by the poacher Marceau (Julien Carette) and her jealous husband the groundskeeper Schumacher (Gaston Modot). As the commotion moves from the darkened theatre to the open entryway of the house (as well as the different rooms), the chaos begins to compound upon itself as Jurieux searches for Christine and finds a fight, while Schumacher’s search for his wife continues. As the fights begin to break out the camera seems to sit back and let things happen rather than interfering with close ups, it is as if the viewer is watching the dramatics unfold in a play, which is consequently what the other guests seem to think until Schumacher, pushed to the brink, begins shooting. This scene is noteworthy for the fact that Renoir brilliantly used the theater for the backdrop of the ‘battle’ laden climax of the film.

The hunting aspect of the film is also an intriguing metaphorical piece of the film. When we first meet Schumacher,  M. Cheyniest expresses to him that while he doesn’t want any fencing around the grounds he wishes for there to be no rabbits, since this ground is mainly for the hunting of pheasants. This seems to possibly allude to a metaphor revolving around the bountiful ‘average’ rabbits in relation to the lower classes, and the somewhat sparse and appealing pheasants in relation to the Bourgeoisie. This metaphor is taken further by the ways in which the characters, even the servants talk about the pheasants in relation to the rabbits, as well as in the rather disturbing ‘hunting’ scene. The ‘hunting’ scene alluded to in the previous sentence is also one of note in relation to this film, when watching this rapidly edited (especially in relation the rest of the film) scene where the servants ‘scare’ the animals toward the lackadaisical Bourgeois awaiting the rush of animals, guns ready, as well as the mass, for lack of a better word, murder of the animals as they run for their lives right into the trap which has been set for them, one can’t help but feel extremely uneasy, a feeling heightened by the sudden change in edit speed.

However, while these statements merely scratch the surface of this pinnacle of poetic realism, we must move to the next film of interest, which also seems to focus upon the Bourgeoisie preying upon the lower class.

1945 – Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne ~ Robert Bresson

“… this is a movie in which one can feel the urge of melodrama to turn into abstraction. So, every time Bresson uses mood music (a very romantic score by Jean-Jacques Grünenwald), tracking shots and pans to open up that off-screen space he will be so famous for omitting , and every time he resorts to conventions of terrific acting, you can feel him identifying line, form, and self-denial within the scene… It is as if we were watching Picasso still working in the Blue period, but beginning to be possessed by Cubism.”
~David Thomson (Thomson)

For the second film, chosen in chronological order, it certainly made sense to move from Renoir to Bresson. However the choice of film was rather tough, having been well aware of Bresson, and more specifically his later work, it’s intriguing to watch something from early on in his career, which is much more obviously complex, for lack of better phrase. This film was also intriguing for the fact that it was an adaptation of a Diderot story from Jacques le Fataliste, which Bresson adapted with the help of Jean Cocteau, who helmed the dialogue. (Truffaut 188-189) With Cocteau in charge of the dialogue he, as Truffaut put it, “added the music.” (Truffaut 189) However the truly interesting aspect of the film is the way in which the budding director inadvertently alludes to the sophistication, which would become synonymous with his name, seems to sneak out of this picture.

While researching this film it became apparent that most view it as Bresson-ian exercise, which only serves as a stepping-stone for which his latter films will leap forward from. Truffaut himself stated that “The direction remains, despite the intervening years, very abstract. Cocteau himself remarked; ‘This isn’t a film; it’s the skeleton of a film.’ We are seduced by Bresson’s intentions rather than by his execution. Les Dames is an exercise in style… [Bresson’s] stubbornness and laborious work of refining finally command our respect” (Truffaut 190) In truth this film is in many aspects extremely conventional, as far as Bresson goes, it is certainly remnant of Hollywood and more conventional foreign cinema, however as stated prior, Bresson’s style is certainly on the horizon, and the way in which it is filmed ‘commands’ the viewers attention to detail.

To begin with the scenery, while much more extravagant that the following Bresson films is still rather sparse, forcing the viewer to be attentive to many details, also the use of dress is extremely interesting, nearly all of the characters are constantly wearing black, and their faces are often veiled, except the youthful Agnès (Elina Labourdette), who can be seen dancing in what one can only assume are wildly colorful outfits. This metaphor is taken even further upon the wedding scene when, even though Agnès is a ‘woman of the night’ she wears white, which highlights her purity of heart and mind. This immediately sets her apart from other women of the film, the scorned and the complacent. This film also utilizes such filmic techniques as cookies, which brings a sort of cinematic elegance to the screen, which also alludes to the eminent tragedy that lingers over the entire film.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of the film though is the way in which the actors portray their parts, while, Thomson was not incorrect when he said that Bresson ‘resorts to conventions of terrific acting,” (Thomson) there is still a sort of Bressonian indifference to the delivery, especially in the acting of María Casares as Hélène, who’s character certainly strives to embody a certain apathy toward Jean (Paul Bernard), who has unwittingly invited her scorn upon himself. In the film Hélène is truly the ‘director’ of the action, similarly to Bresson, methodically and completely controlling every aspect of the action of the film, nothing, apart from the end, goes against her plan, as she toys with the minds of the other characters in a perfect way, manipulating them just right, so that they fall unsuspectingly (aside from Agnès who is the only one who seems to suspect Hélène of any wrongful intent) into her sinister scornful plan. Casares dry and contemptuous portrayal of Hélène, accentuated by Bresson’s tendency to enshroud her in shadow, and avert her gaze from the other characters, especially when she cries or when she delivers an especially deceptive line, and especially when the line is delivered to Jean, creates a distant, incredibly diabolical, psychologically despicable character.

With this film Bresson truly presents the viewer with a cruel interpretation of love where even though the film ends on a decidedly hopeful note, in which love may indeed prevail, it is hard not to depart without a certain cloud of gloom, haunted by such lines as “There is no such thing as love, only it’s proofs.” From this film we move to Melville’s second feature, yet another adaptation, this time of an extremely personal and partially autobiographical novel by Jean Cocteau.

1950 – Les Enfants Terribles~ Jean-Pierre Melville(written/adapted by Jean Cocteau)

“There is no need to carefully distinguish what is Melville’s and what is Cocteau’s in this four-handed concerto; the former’s calm strength is well served by the latter’s spirited writing. These two artists worked together like Bach and Vivaldi. Jean Cocteau’s best novel became Jean-Pierre Melville’s best film.”
~ Francois Truffaut (Truffaut 223)

With Les Enfants Terribles the viewer is presented with the brilliantly surreal, poetic, and complex metaphorical world of Cocteau through the filter of Melville’s interpretation, and Henri Decaë’s (who was of the key Nouvelle Vague cinematographers, along with Raoul Coutard) striking cinematography. Historian Gary Indiana stated of the film that “Melville’s film is patently unreal, a surprisingly sure-handed appropriation of the dream realm Cocteau’s work specialized in.” (Indiana 8) Although Melville and Cocteau had a bit of a tumultuous relationship throughout the shooting which involved a struggle for control, Melville even reportedly kicked Cocteau out when he accidentally yelled cut on set, boundaries were set and, while the relationship of the two cinematic giants suffered (according to Melville in and excerpt from Melville on Melville), the filmic result is a brilliant collaboration of two influential minds.

From the moment we are fully introduced to the, incestuous, siblings as Paul (Edouard Dermithe, whom Cocteau insisted play Paul, and whom Melville disliked for the part), wounded from the previous snowball fight, is brought to Elisabeth (Nicole Stéphane) a certain atmosphere is present, a certain heavy clutter which will follow our characters throughout the film, as they cannot escape their initial calculatedly cluttered bedroom. The atmosphere of the film is rich and intense, seeming to assault all of the senses, Truffaut points out that this is “one of the few truly olfactory films in the history of cinema (its odor is of a children’s sickroom)” (Truffaut 223). But while this is true and it can be said that the films atmosphere plays on all senses, it is of course the visual aspects of the film, which have the most profound effect.

Melville’s previous film Le Silence de la Mer (1949), which was, allegedly, the reason for Cocteau’s invitation to Melville to direct Les Enfants, was an extremely low budget film which made use of filmic techniques such as the use of non-actors and natural lighting. These two things were also extended (although not fully) to Les Enfants, and are two of the techniques, which the Nouvelle Vague would be famous for championing.

However the fact remains that while the atmosphere is heavy, and the techniques noteworthy, the most intriguing features about the film are the ways in which Cocteau’s surrealist poetics are put to the screen, and the fervor with which the characters are portrayed by the actors and actresses. To begin, the films opening sequence in which Paul is struck by a ‘deceptive’ snowball, which is obviously a reoccurring theme for Cocteau as it also appears in his own film The Blood of a Poet (1930), has a certain dreamlike feel to it set in on a seemingly deserted street (which is also similar to the way in which Cocteau himself filmed this scene) upon which only the incomplete buildings and children are lit, and the rest is enshrouded in darkness, this gives the feeling as the two aforementioned things exist. Some of the more notable surrealist aspects of the film are the ways which Melville imposes the theatrical and cinematic aspects of the film, the way in which the Melville portrays the characters in a very childish light, and through Elisabeth’s oddly Prophetic dream near the end of the film.

The way in which Melville utilizes windows proves intriguing examples of Melville’s imposition of theatrical and cinematic aspects. This is first introduced when Elisabeth looks out the window of the train, through the condensation, as the camera pulls back Elisabeth wipes away the moisture and stares out into the darkness. This idea is made further absurd and surrealist when in a scene change Melville begins the scene in an empty theatre from which he pulls back through the window into the siblings’ bedroom as if to hint at the fact that this is simply theatrics. The final example of this (to be discussed in this essay) is the way in which as Gerard (Jacques Bernard) stares out the siblings bedroom window, he is pulled toward the camera away from the other characters as if to impose a distancing effect as well as alluding to a estranging temporal jump which possibly places emotional distance between Gerard and the siblings. An additional, surrealist aspect of the film is the way in which the ‘children’ are often shown in robes, and often drag blankets and pillows with the camera angled downward, making them seem much more childish, making their exteriors mirror their behavior. Finally as the film comes to a close the final surrealist aspect is the way in which Elisabeth’s dream is filled with metaphorically surreal images, which are prophetic of the final outcome of the film, as she finds Paul reclined gracefully upon the pool table.

The final aspect of the film, which one simply cannot forget to discuss is the performances, which the actors and actresses give in the film. While Everyone from Dermithe to Renée Cosima (who perfectly and interestingly plays both Dargelos and Agathe) to Jean Cocteau himself, as the narrator, perform their parts perfectly the one person who seems to stand out is Nicole Stéphane with her performance as Elisabeth. Truffaut states of her performance that she “spills rather than speaks the role of Elisabeth from her incredibly generous mouth.” (Truffaut 223) I have found this to be incredibly true throughout the film, but the best example of this being in the final minutes of the film as the Elisabeth’s deceptive plans are revealed. As the gravity of the situation hits Elisabeth she pulls at her hair, and speaks through pursed lips and clenched teeth as the camera focuses on her face as the emotions seem to erupt, she is truly and convincingly driven mad by it all.

While Les Enfants could easily fill the rest of these pages we must continue on, closer to the beginnings of the Nouvelle Vague, with the stunning debut feature of Louis Malle, who also utilized the brilliant cinematography of Decaë to create a personal film within the constraints of the crime genre.

1957 – Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud) ~ Louis Malle

“So much of what one expects to find in a New Wave film is present in both story and the narrative style of Elevator to the Gallows that it deserves careful study as both a prototypical New Wave text and a personal ‘auteur product.’ Many reviews at the time referred to the film’s mix of realism and poetry, set in a strange, new, and modern France and displaying formal elegance and complexity.”
~Richard Neupert (Neupert 92)

With Elevator to the Gallows we draw closer and closer to the Nouvelle Vague. While Malle is well known and has often been likened to the auteurs of the Nouvelle Vague, he is still considered a precursor because of the way in which he innovated the cinema and created a cinematic springboard for the Nouvelle Vague, which was indeed right on his heels. From his choice of lesser known to non actors and actresses to his small budget to his use of natural light and on location shooting to his working personal aspects to the pre-established noir crime drama to his use of an improvised jazz soundtrack provided by Miles Davis, Louis Malle’s first film was truly extraordinary.

Prior to Elevator to the Gallows Malle had worked with the famed Jacques Cousteau and briefly with one of his biggest influences Robert Bresson (which just goes to show the how the earlier generations of auteurs influenced the up and coming generations) both of which had a profound influence upon the aesthetics and narrative structure of his films. (Neupert 86-88) However after working with both of the aforementioned directors Malle decided to break out and direct his own feature. After failed attempts at trying to sell a semi-autobiographical love story, which he himself wrote, he decided to adapt a pulp novel, and Elevator to the Gallows was born. (French 10-12)

While there are certain aspects of this film, which are exceptionally noir, Neupert puts it best when he says that “This intricate alternating narrative retains many traits from the crime melodrama genre, typical of film noir, but also pushes character complexity and ambiguity closer to European art cinema traditions, abandoning classical unity and psychological realism.” (Neupert 94) With Jeanne Moreau as leading lady, Florence Carala, and Maurice Ronet as leading man Julien Tavernier, Malle truly delved into them as characters. Both Mm. Carala and M. Tavernier rarely interact with outside characters and when they are on screen Malle seems to focus on their inner turmoil as well as the urgency and desperation that both of the characters experience as they fall victim to chance. In the beginning of the film we are presented with extreme close ups of both of the characters as they express their undying love for one another, and speak frankly of their upcoming meeting, little does the viewer know that said meeting will, supposedly, transpire after M. Tavernier as killed Mm. Carala’s husband.

After a rather intricate and methodical murder scene where Malle cuts away from the actual murder to the secretary sharpening pencils, covering up the sound of the gunshot. Returning to Tavernier as he finishes the act by cleaning up and posing M. Carala as is it was a suicide Malle cuts to a Black Cat on the rail outside the window, a blatant allusion to the devastating series of events about to take place and after that nothing seems to go right for any of the characters involved, and Malle sends the viewer on a cerebral journey thorough the night as we follow Mm. Carala as she slinks through the streets in search of Tavernier, watch Tavernier squirm in his claustrophobic elevator ‘cell’ and the two young tangential lovers, Véronique (Yori Bertin) and Louis (Georges Poujouly) as they embark on a seemingly unrelated rebellious and eventually murderous plot stem, which eventually dooms all of our characters. With this film Malle placed a good many pieces of the Nouvelle Vague puzzle together, while furthering the career of Decaë whose brilliant lighting opened up the career of Jeanne Moreau, who would go on to be a famed actress of the Nouvelle Vague.

While this film set a luminously modern swanky noir-ish example for the Nouvelle Vague to follow, the next film to be discussed in this essay strived for a much more playful attempt at meticulously calculated comical commentary of modern France.

1958 – Mon Oncle ~ Jacques Tati

“Tati, like Bresson, invents cinema as he makes a film; he rejects anyone else’s structures.”
~Francois Truffaut (Truffaut 237)

With this film Tati continued to develop his character of M. Hulot, an accident prone yet loveably comical character, who just doesn’t fit in with the modern world which seems to be swallowing the world he knows and loves whole. Truffaut states that “Tati presents his ideas in a film that concerns our time, but without saying so.” (Truffaut 236) Truffaut’s statement is extremely true of Tati’s film, through his films Tati continued in a creative way to subtly comment upon the modern ways in which society was changing, not necessarily outright condemning them, but offering up absurd examples and showing the ridiculous excess of Modern society.

As for Tati’s cinematic style, he was extremely concerned with character and development of the character, not entirely unlike Renoir. Roy Armes (along with a small quote from Tati himself) illuminates this fact when he states “Tati originally came to the cinema as an actor and he conceives his films in terms of characters: ‘It is necessary for my characters to evolve, not for my camera to move.’” (Armes 131) Through the development and evolution of his characters Tati excellently displays a brilliant mind for the subtle nuances of comic commentary. When creating his films Tati was extremely concerned with having control over all aspects of the film which allowed him to create films which had an tremendously personal touch to them, because he exerted artistic control over the majority of the film. Also of his characters he was quoted stating that “What I have tried to do since the beginning is to give more truth to the comic character.” (Armes 134)

As for the actual film, Mon Oncle from the very beginning this film struck a direct comparison between the ‘modern man’ and Hulot and the dying ‘classical’ world in which he fits. Immediately as the opening credits begin the viewer is presented with a transitory world, as the credits appear on architectural nameplates in the foreground as construction of ‘modern’ buildings proceeds in the background. This is without delay thrown into contrast as the title appears in chalk upon a brick wall in the neighborhood that Hulot calls home. This comparison is carried throughout the film with an exemplary instance being the crumbling wall brick wall, which both Hulot and the pack of dogs (which seem to constantly inhabit the film), traverse every time they move between ‘worlds.’ This instantly creates a fragile (as it actually crumbles a bit as Hulot passes it on one of his ventures) barrier between the two distinct styles of life, the fragility of this wall also signifies that as time passes the world grows closer to a modern take over and which threatens to swallow historical culture and the laid back lives of not only Hulot, but also the inhabitants of his neighborhood, many of which actually lived in the location where those scenes were shot. (Armes 133) The fragile barrier between worlds is also well exemplified by the scene in which Hulot passes an old brick building being torn down, he passes it twice and each time more and more of the most likely historical building has been torn down, which the film seems to suggest is making way for more productive and modern enterprise.

While the examples above illustrate the subtle ways in which Tati seems to inject commentary into his films, there are of course much more obvious and hilarious ways in which this is done as well. The entire Arpel household as well as the factory in which M. Arpel works, provide the film with endless comic devices with which Tati comments upon the frivolity of it all. From the Arpel’s party (and the Zany antics involving the kitchen, the fish fountain, and the ‘shrubbery’ (if one can even call it such)) to Hulot’s short stint in the oppressively (emotionally) cold factory Tati continually succeeds in showing the monotony and silliness of the overtaking ‘modern world.’

In the end Tati remains a relevant filmmaker to this day for his relentless control over his highly personal and comical filmic expressions of life. Which seemed to have an impact on cinema as a whole in the ways in which Tati integrated commentary with light-hearted comedy, and the ways in which he retained complete control over his low budget, yet delightful and successful films. From this point we move to our final stop before the Nouvelle Vague arrives, Alain Resnais and his debut feature.

1959 – Hiroshima Mon Amour ~ Alain Resnais

“Godard:    You can see all that is Eisensteinian about Hiroshima because it is in fact the very idea of montage, its definition even.
Rivette:    Yes. Montage for Eisenstein as for Resnais, consists in rediscovering unity from a basis of fragmentation, but without concealing the fragmentation in doing so; on the contrary, emphasizing it by emphasizing the autonomy of the shot.”
~Excerpt from the Cahiers du Cinema round-table discussion (Rohmer 13)

Alain Resnais first feature Hiroshima Mon Amour remains today as Rohmer states in the Cahiers round-table discussion “a film about which you can say everything” (Rohmer 13) For Resnais first feature he presented the viewer with an extremely ambiguous film in which much of the film is subjective. Before getting too in-depth in discussion of the film, it must be stated that this film was released the same year that Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) was released and henceforth is in actuality more of  film that alongside The 400 Blows helped to finally usher in the Nouvelle Vague. Another fact of note is the fact that while Resnais, as well as Agnès Varda, were making films along side the Nouvelle Vague directors, they are often considered to be a part of a completely different movement, for the fact that they rarely interacted with the Cahiers du Cinema group, consisting of Godard, Truffaut etc. who were widely considered ‘the Nouvelle Vague,’ Resnais and Varda were subsequently considered by many to be a part of a different movement entitled ‘the Left Bank.’ (Neupert 299)

Having taken the aforementioned facts into mind, the first point to be made about this film is the first point which Godard makes at the Cahiers’ round-table “…lets start by saying that it’s literature.” (Rohmer 13) The very existence of this film is due to the fact that Resnais, who was known for his short documentary films at the time, was asked to create a longer documentary about the affects of the bombing of Hiroshima, with this in mind he decided that at this point in time the best way in which to show the effects would be through a fictitious love story set in Hiroshima with past montage of abstracted effects of WWII and Hiroshima upon a French woman. With the enlisted help of new novelist Marguerite Duras, Resnais set upon the mission of creating a film, which indirectly (as well as directly) investigates the aftermath of one of the most catastrophic events in human history. All of which was to be done in a narrative format, which was much more akin to literature that to film. (Rohmer 13-20)

With that stated, the heart of the film which was filmed on location both in France and in Japan, was set out to mirror the forgetfulness of love with societies tendency to forget and or lose touch with, through exploitation, tragedy. The beginning sequence of the film is quite possibly the most striking of the entirety of the film, Neupert describes the importance of this sequence quite perfectly when he states that “… this opening sequence establishes the unsettling tone for the rest of the film as it mixes sex, death, and even laughter while foregrounding the juxtaposition of sounds and images.” (Neupert 306) In this sequence Resnais utilizes two sets of troubling images in conjunction in order to strike the viewer and set up the rest of the film. The abstract shots of sex between Nevers (Emmanuelle Riva) and Hiroshima (Eiji Okada) where they appear in the beginning to be covered in ash, representative of the devastating effects of the bomb, serve to immediately confuse and grab the attention of the viewer, and to intermix these abstracted sex scenes with tracking shots of the Hiroshima museum as well as actual newsreel footage (as well as some staged footage) further confuses and disturbs the viewer, and after the viewers attention is fully toward the ideas being expressed repetitively through the dialogue, Resnais throws the now non-abstracted characters at the viewer with a Brechtian laugh, which serves to shock the viewer back into what appears to be a slightly more normal narrative format. Yet, as the round-table excerpt, which introduced this section of the essay suggests this film is filled with fragmented montage, which serves to present the viewer with an extremely subjective narrative.

With the use of starkly contrasted black and white cinematography (Sacha Vierny and Michio Takahashi) and a combination of on location shooting as well as interesting camera angles and intriguing use of extreme close up as well as differing directions in which the characters stare even as they speak to one another creates a world within a world, where none of the true locations can fully grasp the expansive world in which the narrative lies. Perfect examples of this being the ways in which the two main characters seem to deal with the outside world, neither of them whole-heartedly embraces any aspect of their surroundings aside from each other, which is obvious in the scene in which they sit at separate tables and stair intently at each other deep in thought as an outside character approaches ‘Nevers’ and proceeds to strike up a conversation to which she, never breaking eye contact with ‘Hiroshima’ nods in response to the outsiders questioning. This further illustrates the point that the narrative of this story lies not exclusively with in the world presented on film. Resnais vision is truly cinematic literature, ambiguous to right up until the ending, it will always as Neupert succinctly states “remain a stubbornly open-ended film” (Neupert 311)

In the end the point which this essay strives to express is Colin Crisp and Richard Neupert’s points from the introduction of this paper, that while the Nouvelle Vague cinema of France is incredibly important in cinematic history, one must not forget or overlook the intensely rich cinematic history of France, which led the way for the Brilliant newcomers of the Nouvelle Vague. Whether it was in narrative structure, subject matter, the ‘personal’ aspects, the monetary aspects, or the innovations of filmic technique, style, and control, the precursors to the Nouvelle Vague sparked the innovations with which the Nouvelle Vague directors expanded upon and made their own.

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Rohmer, Eric; Godard, Jean-Luc; Doniol-Valcroze, Jacques; Domarchi, Jean; Kast, Pierre; Rivette, Jacques . “Hiroshima Mon Amour: A Round-table discussion .” Cahier du Ciname  July 1959: 13-23. (Reprinted by the Criterion Collection 2003)

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Tavernier , Bertrand . “Directors Cut: Bertrand Tavernier on La Règle du Jeu.” (2004) (Reprinted from the British daily newspaper The Independent (Original publish date not included) by the Criterion Collection)

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