Best of the French New Wave

Aggressive jump-cutting, the director as auteur, an unhealthy obsession with American crime thrillers, heart-rending tales of loneliness and tragic romance, politically astute, often dangerously subversive, sometimes sickeningly pretentious... Love it or hate it, it cannot be denied that the new wave of film directors of the late1950s and early 1960s left their mark on French cinema.

From the hot-headed former critics of the review magazine Les Cahiers du cinéma (Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol and Rohmer) to the great innovators such as Resnais, Varda, Demy, Rivette, not forgetting the talent of Malle, Rozier, Eustache, Lelouch and Costa-Gavras - all played their part in re-defining French cinema in the 1960s.

Here is a selection of the films which represent the triumphs of the French New Wave.

Le Beau Serge
Claude Chabrol's debut feature was this poignant tale of friendship and failed ambition. Striking in its humanity and realism, it marked the start of the French New Wave. [More...]
Ascenseur pour l'échafaud
Louis Malle brings a fresh persepective on the film policier in this, his eye-opening directoral debut. Jeanne Moreau gives a spell-binding performance, with music from Miles Davis. [More...]

Hiroshima mon amour
The scars of the present reflect the unspeakable tragedy of the past, in this remarkable debut film from Alain Resnais. The striking cinematography makes dialogue all but superfluous. [More...]
Les Cousins
With its young cast and university setting, Chabrol's second film has a distinctively New Wave feel. It features Jean-Claude Brialy and Gérard Blain, two actors favoured by the New Wave directors. [More...]

Les Quatre cents coups
Vociferous film critic of the cinéma de la qualité, François Truffaut picked up the gauntlet and won instant acclaim for this partly auto-biographical study of childhood rebellion. [More...]
À bout de souffle
In one of the most spectacular directoral debuts in film history, Jean-Luc Godard gives new meaning and form to the medium of film in this bizarre pastiche of the film policier. [More...]

Les Bonnes femmes
Chabrol's realistic portrayal of female ennui provoked a violent backlash but it is now regarded as one of the masterpieces of the New Wave. [More...]
Tirez sur le pianiste
The first and best of Truffaut's homages to the American crime thriller features a sublime performance from Charles Aznavour. [More...]

Jacques Demy's first major film is now regarded as a major work of the New Wave. It is a wistful tale of love and fidelity, filmed with the expansive eloquence which marks most of Demy's films. [More...]
L'Année dernière à Marienbad
A love triangle set in a baroque mansion offers a haunting study in time, space and memory. Alain Resnais' ethereal dream-like film makes a compelling cinematographic innovation. [More...]

Adieu Philippine
With its undying energy and youthful exuberance, this film encapsulates the French New Wave perhaps better than any other film. Rozier's debut film is nothing less than an act of cinematic rebellion. [More...]
La Jetée
A short but captivating film in which the memories of survivor of a post-apocalyptic world provide mankind's only hope of survival. A chilling and humane portrait in the form of a photo-novel. [More...]

Jules et Jim
Truffaut's enduring masterpiece is a poignant love triangle which captures fully the director's humanity and morbid passion for life, and which features Jeanne Moreau in arguably her best screen role. [More...]
Vivre sa vie
One of the defining films of the French New Wave, Vivre sa vie is a pot-pourri of poetry and irony, a film which, despite its unconventional form, both captivates and shocks its audience. [More...]

Cléo de 5 à 7
Agnès Varda's finest work is this poignant reflection on the meaning of life, told from the perspective of a woman who realises she is about to lose everything. [More...]
A compelling study of intense personal regret, this is the film which best exemplifies Resnais' unusual technique of fusing time, place and memory. [More...]

Le Feu follet
A melancholic study of a burnt-out writer looking for reasons not to kill himself. Arguably Malle's best film, it avoids sentimentality and voyeurism and instead offers a poignant depiction of despair. [More...]
Le Mépris
Brigitte Bardot shows genuine talent in this aching,  melancholic story of ennui and self-fulfilment. Considered by many as Godard's best film,  Le Mépris is also the director's first and best attempt to satarise and demonise the film-making industry. [More...]

La Peau douce
Exceptional performances from Françoise Dorléac and Jean Desailly make this compassionate portrait of a doomed May to December romance particularly memorable. [More...]
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg
With the yearning music of Michel Legrand, Jacques Demy creates a fairytale world which is cursed by ill-fate and biting melancholia, making this arguably the best French film musical and also one of the most memorable of screen love stories. [More...]

Bande à part
Jean-Luc Godard clearly had tongue firmly in cheek when he made this homage to the low budget American thriller. Brilliantly subversive, daringly funny, it is one of Godard's more accessible works. [More...]
Pierrot le fou
Godard's most celebrated film is this bizarre yet striking deconstruction of American pulp fiction. It marks the start of Godard's radical departure from the conventional narrative form in his continual quest to re-invent cinema. [More...]

Lemmy Caution is resurrected for this bizarre blend of crime thriller and science-fiction, intended as a satire on contemporary French politics. Outrageously funny and deeply disturbing, Alphaville is often cited as the best example of French film science-fiction. [More...]
Un homme et une femme
Claude Lelouch won the Palme d'or at Cannes in 1966 for this quintessentially French love story, distinguished by its imaginative cinematography and that "impossible to forget" musical theme. [More...]

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort
Danielle Darrieux and the famous Dorléac sisters give their all in this ebullient musical romance set in Jacques Demy's sugar-coated fantasy world. Much lighter than Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, the film still has its poignant moments. [More...]
Baisers volés
Although distracted by the events of 1968, François Truffaut still managed to make this brilliant romantic comedy, the third installment in his popular Antoine Doinel cycle, starring Jean-Pierre Léaud. [More...]

Godard's most extreme assault on bourgeois complacency and the materialistic capitalist system is not comfortable viewing, but some of the imagery he evokes in this post-apocalyptic Utopia is breathtakingly effective. [More...]
Le Boucher
A sleepy provencial village harbours a serial killer and the school mistress suspects the local butcher. One of the best psychological thrillers made in France, filled with suspense, with a chilling macabre under-belly. [More...]

Ma nuit chez Maud
The third of Rohmer's Morality Tales revolves around free-will and the ability to choose our own destiny. Jean-Louis Trintignant captures the ambiguity and dilemma in Rohmer's thesis, making this one of his most compelling and profound films. [More...]
Les Choses de la vie
With possibly the most poetic and tranquil depiction of death in any film, Les Choses de la vie is both a poignant and reassuring drama, beautifully filmed, with fine performances from Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider. [More...]

This landmark political thriller won two Oscars and was  inspired by real-life events in Greece. Beneath the obvious caricatures and the black comedy there is a chilling sub-text. [More...]
Le Genou de Claire
With its witty, closely observed dialogue and enchanting performances, the fifth in Rohmer's series of Moral Tales makes an engaging study of the perils of temptation. [More...]

La Maman et la putain
The one truly great film from the last of the New Wave directors is this intellectual yet profoundly spiritual film about one man's search to find an absolute love, free from all social constraints. [More...]
Céline et Julie vont en bateau
Rivette's surreal comedy revolves around a bizarre murder mystery in which nothing is quite what it seems. Spotting where reality ends and fantasy begins is just one of the film's many pleasures. [More...]