French New Wave Cinema Term Paper

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Films and Directors of the French New Wave Movement

Discuss the male/female relationship in the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, My Night at Maud's, Le boucher Shoot the Piano Player regards to the Nouvelle Vague.

La Nouvelle Vague, or the "New Wave," is a term given by film critics in the late 1950's to a cluster of French filmmakers who began a movement that rejected classical cinema to introduce new perspectives of romantic youthfulness. They also broke with traditional models to address political or social themes with refreshed images and dialogue. Additionally, they believed that cinema could discover the mysterious often un-discussed facets of human experiences. These fresh ideas were especially moving when filming the male/female relationships as seen in "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," "My Night at Maud's," "Le Boucher" and "Shoot the Piano Player."

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, directed by Jacques Demy, portrays traditional male and female role but opens the door to consider the implications of convention and how it affects couples that are not able to follow traditional paths.

This visually striking story is of 17-year Genevieve who has a secret romance with 20-year mechanic, Guy. The plot thickens when Genevieve's mother objects to her desire to marry Guy. Her objection shows a contrast between the traditional values of the mother and the youthful uninhibited views of the leads. It is interesting that Genevieve's mother is a widow and shop owner. Her character is strong and independent and yet she is not open or supportive of her daughter's decisions. She seems caught between worlds. At this point, the relationship between the couple is, as the mother realizes, immature and a classically youthful.

Later, Guy is drafted and is about to be sent to a foreign country which gives the couple impetus to making love outside of marriage which predictable results in the conception of a child. Here the movie exposes the attitude of the times which seeks to open a dialogue about premarital sex. The couple tried to follow the traditional path of marriage but when obstructed they pursued their passion. The couple is so engaging that the viewer wants things to work out but the whole romance is not practical. The mother is right again. Guy, as he is sent to war, is not able to be a provider for his lover or their child.

Meanwhile, a local businessman, a gem dealer named Roland, falls in love with Genevieve and proposes to marry her. This satisfies her mother so the poor girl accepts. Genevieve has to choose between her love for Guy and the stability offered by Roland. Is she compromising? Does there have to be a choice between love and security?

Years later, the star-crossed lovers meet again when Genevieve and her daughter stop at a gas station that is owned by Guy. Genevieve is obviously wealthy, a sign that Roland has been the provider that Guy could not be. The conversation between the two is painfully tense with unspoken regret and lingering sentiment. It is peppered with polite discourse that challenges audiences to consider the consequences of roads taken and not taken.

My Night at Maud's

"My Night at Maud's" is third in a series of six moral tales directed by Eric Rohmer. Each film in the series explores contemporary themes of love and romance covering philosophical and moral dilemma. This film is packed with the ideals and sensibilities of the New Wave movement in general and demonstrates the provocative message of Rohmer that love is not as simple as it seems. The story of "My Night with Maud" brings the reality of temptation and conflicting desires out of simplistic categories and puts them on the level of authentic human experience which is multi-layered and not always easy to sort out.

This story is of two people, Jean-Louis and Maud. Jean-Louis is a Catholic engineer and Maud is a beautiful a pediatrician and divorced mother. They meet after Christmas Eve Mass when a friend, named Vidal, introduces them and the three have dinner together. From the beginning the stage is set for tension between faith, which is seen as restrictive with unachievable and unnecessary restrictions, and an attraction that that same faith would call fatal. The male/female roles begin as tempter and tempted. This tug toward temptation is emphasized during a philosophical discussion that unfolds over dinner. Jean-Louis, whose devotion to his faith and to God seems sincere, claims not to be interested in casual affairs. However, his attraction to Maud is also obvious. Maud sees this declaration as hypocritical. The discussion is quite sophisticated, encompassing topics from literature, mathematics, politics, religion, and philosophy, which heightens the passionate tension between the couple. The attraction moves beyond the physical as the characters are challenged intellectually.

In this dialogue-rich film, Rohmer appears to be proposing that the demands of faith and the demands of love are the same. The reward of each can only come about through risk or, perhaps, through detachment of other loves.

Le Boucher

Le Boucher, directed by Claude Chabrol, is a film about unattainable love and brokenness. The main characters, Helen and Popaul, meet at a wedding. This venue begins the conflict between idealistic love and reality of messy unachievable love. The two form a friendship that is bonded, in part, by their mutual loneliness and past heartbreaks. As the hesitant relationship evolves, a series of discussions revel their brokenness caused by complex emotional trauma. Though Helene shows some feminine genius of nurturing, especially in her role as a teacher and occasional attempts at tenderness, Paul is shown as most primitive, emphasized by his job as a butcher. These roles could work to bring these two individuals together as a couple but thematic elements prevalent throughout the film keep the audience wondering if Helene and Popaul can be freed from wounds of their past to restore companionship and love?

Chabrol masterfully symbolizes the distance between the couple cinematographically. He uses the sub-plot of an uncaught killer, perhaps, to represent the internal wounds that are threatening the relationship or to make the viewer ask if the fears they face are real or imagined. He also uses visual effects, such as the views through windows and other distant shots, to emphasize their unresolvable separation.

The male/female relationship in Le Boucher is one of tragedy and loneliness'. Neither Popaul nor Helene is able to be "the other." They are not healthy enough even to be holistically themselves. The film leaves the viewer hoping for a miracle. Le Boucher is a melancholic sketch of people who are trapped by emotional scars and unable to move beyond them. The director is skilled at creating a mood of mistrust, and unfamiliarity among familiar places. This approach communicates well the feeling that one experiences after a trauma or betrayal. The world they knew now seems unsafe and untrustworthy. However, the fear is not merely in their past of in their imagination. The killer at large, who turns out to be Popaul, is real. The end of the story is tragic. It offers Paul one last chance for redemption, something the audience by this time is craving. In a final apparently selfless act, he kill himself instead of killing Helene. Helene is left more wounded than when she began and so the theme of unattainable love is complete.

Shoot the Piano Player

Compared to "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," "My Night at Maud's," and "Le Boucher" the male/female role in "Shoot the Piano Player" is rather simplistic and relaxing. In this story, the lead male, called Charlie, plays piano in a bar where Lena is a waitress. Lena is in love with Charlie but Charlie is mourning the death of his wife who committed suicide. In fact he has left his former life, and took the job in the bar, to escape the pain of his wife death. The romance between Charlie and Lena is woven in and out of a more compelling plot with gangsters and kidnappings. Lena's role in the film is classically feminine. She patiently loves the shy and withdrawn Charlie until he confides in her and shares his past. The director, Francois Truffaut, presents a difficult situation that hinders the love between Lena and Charlie, but, unlike the previously discussed films, he offers a glimmer of hope and allows the audience to believe that love heals all wounds.

Question 2: Compare and contrast Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard as directors based on the films we've watched: Truffaut's, The 400 Blows and Shoot the Piano Player vs. Godard's Breathless and Pierrot le fou.

Two of the most renowned Nouvelle Vague directors are without doubt Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. The two contemporaries met in 1949 in post-war France and formed an unusual friendship. Their backgrounds are starkly different. Francois, born in 1930, was raised by his mother and step-father, and had a childhood that was riddled with trouble and hardship. As a young adult, Truffaut deserted from the military, and spent time in a German prison.…[continue]

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