The French New Wave as movement and style and the case of François Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianiste (1960)

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Information about The French New Wave as movement and style and the case of François...

Published on March 2, 2014

Author: itsirkas



by Andrei Lionachescu & Ioannis Tsirkas
University of Sussex

Andrei Lionachescu & Ioannis Tsirkas University of Sussex

+ 1951: Les cahiers du cinema + Severe attacks against the French cinematic establishment (Bordwell and Thompson 1997, p.465) + Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and others were collaborators of the magazine (Harris 2000, p.212) + “Nouvelle Vague” as an approved term to describe the changes to the wider society of France (Neupert 2006, p.42), a term which turned out to be synonymous with the movement (Kuhn 2007, p.202) + French New Wave appeared in 1959 (Greene 2007, p.10)

+ The exclusion of France from the European and American cinema during the years of the German occupation (Fairlamb 1996, p.49; Lanzoni 2004, p.196) + The importance of “social realism” was increased (Forbes 1998, p.462) + Great emphasis to the scenario and devaluation of the director‟s role (Bordwell and Thompson 1997, p.465) – Truffaut: 'an adaptation [is] of value only when written by a man of the cinema' (quoted in Greene 2007, p.27) and 'there are no works, there are only authors' (p.29) + The French state‟s policy to protect the French Cinema (Neale 1981, p.20)

+ The element of the arbitrary in the plot was prevalent (Kuhn 2007, p.203) – + The concept of continuity in montage was not of high respect (Kline 2006, p.85; Lanzoni 2004, p.211) – + e.g. Tirez sur le pianiste (d. François Truffaut, France, 1960) e.g. jump cuts Every director had his own personal style (directors as autuers) – e.g. Claude Chabrol ≠ Jacques Rivette + Similar patterns in their films + References to the creating process of the film and to other films and directors as “inside jokes” (Fairlamb 1996, p.49; Marie 2003, p.70) – + e.g. the opening sequence in Le mépris (d. Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1963), the photo of Humphrey Bogart in À bout de souffle (d. Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1960) Cheap locations, natural lighting, experiments with the camera technique and the sound, improvisation in the dialogues, preference to the wide depth of field and use of small cinematographic crews (Neupert 2006, p.47)

+ Political radicalism (Forbes 1998, p.464) + Nouvelle Vague‟s „focus on alienated, disaffected individuals who had no contact with society‟ (Kuhn 2007, p.203) + Cinema‟s correspondence to the ideas of young people (Marie 2003, p.96) + Active spectators and not „passive participants‟ (Lanzoni 2004, p.230) + Expression of the „brutal rapture of the cinema‟s social status‟ (Marie 2003, p.24) + „[T]he advent of Gaullism, the peace in Algeria, the postwar economic miracle, the crisis in the role of French intellectual along with the crisis in the French Industry following World War II‟ (Kuhn 2007, p.203) + The „aesthetic sclerosis‟ (Marie 2003, p.18) led to a pursuit „for a new kind of realism‟ (Forbes 1998, p.464)

+ Reaction to the classic Hollywood style + A counter-proposal to the “cinema de papa” of the “system” + Astruc‟s “camera stylo” (Marie 2003, p.31) + middle 1960s: the decadence of the movement (Forbes 1998, p.464)

+ Relationship between its aesthetic characteristics and the sociopolitical and economic contexts of its era + Renewal and evolution of the cinematic medium itself

A short primer on Truffaut + Movie critic writing for Cahiers du Cinema and Arts throughout the 50s + Two essential pieces of writing/manifestos: • • A Certain Tendency in French Cinema (in Cahiers du Cinema, 1954) The French Cinema is Crushed by False Legends (in Arts, 1957, as a series of articles) + „Directors are and want to be responsible for the scripts and dialogue they illustrate. […] When they [the ToQ scriptwriters] hand in their script, the film has already been made: in their view, the metteur-en-scène is the person who decides on the framing‟ (Truffaut 2009, p.54)

Truffaut as director + „I have to feel I am producing a piece of entertainment‟ (Truffaut quoted in Graham 1968, p.88) + Big fan of Hitchcock and Howard Hawks films: „we must consider that they [Truffaut and Hitchcock] are less interested in abstract concepts than in compelling images, less interested in society than in individual situation‟ (Insdorf 1994, p.39) + First three feature-length films: • Les quatre cents coups (1959) • Tirez sur le pianiste (1961) • Jules et Jim (1962)

Frame grab from Les quatre cents coups

Les quatre cents coups + „In his manifesto in Cahiers du cinema, Truffaut had written that “Tomorrow‟s film will resemble its author” […]‟ (Kline 2006, p.84) + „The film had no such form, it was neutral; the direction was purely moral, self-effacing‟ (Truffaut quoted in Graham 1968, p.92) + „[…] an extraordinary freshness and immediacy which partly derives from their resemblance to news reporting and partly from the fact that they are shot in recognizable locations (often in Paris) with actors who look and behave like ordinary people rather than dramatic characters‟ (Forbes, Jones and Kelly 1995, p.175)

[1:29:10 – 1:30:25]

Frame grab from Tirez sur le pianiste

Tirez sur le pianiste + „Rather than present another story about […] simple emotions, he gave his audience gangsters, prostitutes, and a pianist undermined by melancholy – a pure fantasy picture‟ (De Baecque and Toubiana 2000, p.168) + „Truffaut‟s Tirez sur le pianiste (1960) […] although an adaptation of an American crime novel by David Goodis, added comic and fairy-tale elements to the basic thriller narrative‟ (Austin 2008, p.15) + „Truffaut has been seduced by an essentially poetic mythology […]: the exploitation of the fantasies of the gangster novel in Tirez sur le pianiste‟ (Fieschi 1986, p.272)

[26:30 – 28:00]

Tirez sur le pianiste + „As I was shooting Tirez sur le pianiste I realised I hated gangster films‟ (Truffaut quoted in Graham 1968, p.95) + „I emphasized the egotistical side of the artist […] so much so that he ends up rather unattractive, very hard and almost antipathetic‟ (Truffaut quoted in Graham 1968, p.88) + Truffaut also calls this movie „a film without subject […]. It‟s a grab bag‟ (Cukier and Gryn 1972, p.13)

Other stylistic elements + Truffaut did not particularly like the flashback sequence + Stylistic touches that recall Godard more than the director of Les quatre cents coups + There is a „palpable freedom of the character, camera, and film itself to go where they like‟ (Insdorf 1994, p.24)

Frame grab from Tirez sur le pianiste

Frame grab from Tirez sur le pianiste

Frame grab from Tirez sur le pianiste

Frame grab from Jules et Jim

+ „My films share a basic tension, between characters who can accept the provisional or temporary nature of love, and those who demand that love be definitive. Of course we see the absolutists as mad; yet we admire them because we sense behind the madness a certain purity‟ (Truffaut quoted in Insdorf 1994, p.228)

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. Austin, Guy (2008) Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction. 2nd edn. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Bordwell, David and Thompson, Kristin (1997) Film Art: An Introduction. 5th edn. New York: McGraw Hill. Cukier, Dan A. and Gryn, Jo (1972) „A conversation with François Truffaut‟ in Braudy, Leo (ed.) Focus on: ‘Shoot the Piano Player’ . New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, pp. 12-22. De Baecque, Antoine and Toubiana, Serge (2000) Truffaut. Berkley: University of California Press. Fairlamb, Brian (1996) „Tough Guys and Fairy-Tales: A Case Study of the Influence of the Films of Nicholas Ray Upon Truffaut‟s Tirez sur le pianiste‟, French Cultural Studies, 7(19), pp. 49-62, Sage Journals [Online]. Available at (Accessed : 28 January 2014). Fieschi, Jean-André (1986) „Neo-neo-realism: Bandits at Orgosolo‟ in Hillier, Gim (ed.) Cahiers du Cinéma: 1960-1968: New Wave, New Cinema, Reevaluating Hollywood, Volume 2. London: Routledge & Kaegan Paul, pp. 271-275. Forbes, Jill (1998) „The French Nouvelle Vague‟ Realism‟ in Gibson, Pamela Church and Hill, John (eds.) The Oxford Guide to Film Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 461-465. Forbes, Jill, Jones, Tony and Kelly, Michael (1995) „Modernization and Avant-gardes‟ in Forbes, Jill and Kelly, Michael (eds.) French Cultural Studies: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 140-182. Graham, Peter (1968) The New Wave. London: Secker & Warburg. Greene, Naomi (2007) The French New Wave: A New Look. London: Wallflower. Harris, Sue (2000) 'Cinema in a nation of filmgoers' in Kidd, William and Reynolds, Siân (eds.) Contemporary French Cultural Studies. London: Arnold, pp. 208-219. Insdorf, Annette (1994) François Truffaut. 3rd edn. New York: Cambridge University Press. Kline, Jefferson T. (2006) „Les 400 Coups‟ in Powrie, Phil (ed.) The Cinema of France. London: Wallflower, pp. 81-90. Kuhn, Annete (2007) „The Nouvelle Vague‟ in Cook, Pam (ed.) The Cinema Book. 3rd edn. London: British Film Institute, pp. 202-204. Lanzoni, mi Fournier (2004) French Cinema: From its Beginnings to the Present. London: Continuum. Marie, Michel (2003) The French New Wave: An Artistic School. Translated from French by Neupert, Richard. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Neale, Steve (1981) „Art Cinema as Institution‟, Screen, 22(1), pp. 11-40, Oxford Journals [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 27 January 2014). Neupert, Richard (2006) „The French New Wave: New Stories, Styles and Auteurs‟ Cinema‟ in Badley, Linda, Palmer, R. Barton and Schneider, Steven Jay (eds.) Traditions in World Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 41-51. Sellier, Geneviève (2001) „Gender, Modernism and Mass Culture in the New Wave‟ in Hughes, Alex and Williams, James S. (eds.) Gender and French Cinema. Oxford: Berg, pp. 125-138. Truffaut, François (2009) „A Certain Tendency in French Cinema (1954)‟ in Graham, Peter and Vincendeau, Ginette (eds.) The French New Wave: Critical Landmarks. London: British Film Institute, pp. 39-63.

– „In films like […] Truffaut‟s Tirez sur le Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player, 1960) cinematic echoes from the past clearly invited a meditation not only on different filmic traditions, especially those of France and the United States, but also on psychological and philosophical issues [our emphasis]‟ (Greene 1999, p.161). + Do you agree with Naomi Greene‟s statement, or is the film too farcical to approach it in such a way? – „Because of various pressures, films had become impersonal. We believed that everything had to be simplified so we could work freely […]. The deliberate lightness [our emphasis]of these films passes for frivolity – sometimes wrongly, sometimes rightly‟ (Truffaut quoted in De Baecque and Toubiana 2000, p.172). + Do you think the „lightness‟ of the film‟s plot and structure can adversely affect our view of it or does it complement the tone? – „As a piano virtuoso of working-class origins (origins to which his paralysing shyness attests), Truffaut‟s protagonist incarnates the idealized figure of the artist as imagines by the New Wave auteurs: he is self-made and abandons his concert career in order to compromise himself within bourgeois milieux, signified in the film by the impresario character. He is a sacrificial hero, and therefore quite unlike the young film-makers of the New Wave, who pragmatically made use of all the openings available to them through their social background or connections in order to produce their films‟ (Sellier 2001, p.128). + Even thought we do not notice any exlplicit or direct political messages in the film Tirez sur le pianiste, what connotations of such direction might we call to attention as regards its texture? Τake into consideration the above quotation.

Japanese New Wave Tôkyô nagaremono [Tokyo Drifter](d. Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1966) Koruto wa ore no pasupooto [A Colt Is My Passport] (d. Takashi Nomura, Japan, 1967)

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