In the prewar era, the likes of Marcel Carné and René Clair had shot some of the outright loveliest films of the time, often using Parisian backdrops to great effect. Yet for the young turks writing for the film publication Cahiers du cinéma, founded in the 50s, these amounted to nothing more than 'cinema for dads' - outmoded pap that failed to reflect the social truths of the time.
These critics, who soon turned to directing, would come to be labelled the 'New Wave' of French cinema: a group of iconoclastic filmmakers who worked outside the studio system, and foregrounded narrative ambiguity and radical formal experimentation. Based in Paris, they used the city variously as a gritty arena for social tensions (Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows'), a sort of urban playground for the young (the same director's 'Jules and Jim'), and as a model for dystopian cities of the future (Marker's 'La Jetée', Godard's 'Alphaville'). Yet the movement barely impacted on Hollywood's enduring infatuation with the city, which continued to serve as the setting for countless American rom-coms and musicals.
The notion of a domestically-based 'ethnological study' dates at least from Montesquieu's Lettres persanes. But what distinguishes this attempt by Rouch and the sociologist Edgar Morin to 'bottle' the climate of Paris circa 1960 is their camera's candid assumption of its own disruptively active presence: interviewees are introduced to each other, form groups, and may well (in one case) have got married after shooting was over...Read more
Jean-Claude Aimini plays that familiar figure of '60s cinema, the young man awaiting his call-up papers. He works in a TV studio (very droll, these scenes) where he meets two girls, best friends, whom he joins for a holiday in Corsica. Relationships flare and fizzle, ending with the girls on the quayside and the lad on board ship, the war in Algeria beckoning. Rozier's methods were improvisational...Read more
‘Cléo from 5 to 7’ was French new waver Agnès Varda’s second feature and is filled with the beauty of Paris’s natural light. ‘Hold on, pretty butterfly!’ says Cléo (Corinne Marchand, pictured), a fretful and fame-occupied singer, to herself as she prepares to roam the city for two hours while awaiting a possibly momentous doctor’s verdict. It’s experimental and free-wheeling in design – Varda gives us overlapping dialogue, parodic inserts...Read more
This classic 'photo-roman' about the power of memory - 'the story of a man marked by an image of his childhood' - begins at Orly airport a few years before WWIII. That image is of a woman's face at the end of the pier; and in the post-apocalyptic world the man now inhabits as a prisoner, he is given the chance to discover its true significance as a guinea-pig in a time travel experiment. Marker uses monochrome images recognisably from the past...Read more
In 1962, the French New Wave’s most avid bookworm released an adaptation of Henri-Pierre Roché’s novel ‘Jules et Jim’. It was François Truffaut’s second adaptation (and his third feature film) but this one was special: the young tyro director and the art collector from another era (Roché had died in 1959, aged 80) came together like, well, Jules and Jim. Roche’s autobiographical story of a Frenchman, Jim (Henri Serre) and a German...Read more
First in the popular series that has repeatedly sidetracked Edwards ever since, with Sellers' death not even staunching the flow. Live action cartoonery had been underworked since Tashlin mapped its possibilities with Jerry Lewis, but the novelty value of Sellers' disaster-prone Inspector Clouseau, funny French accent and all, wore off quicker than its commercial value. The eponymous diamond, which reappeared...Read more
One of Godard's most sheerly enjoyable movies, a dazzling amalgam of film noir and science fiction in which tough gumshoe Lemmy Caution turns inter-galactic agent to re-enact the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice by conquering Alpha 60, the strange automated city from which such concepts as love and tenderness have been banished. As in Antonioni's The Red Desert (made the previous year), Godard's theme is alienation in a technological society...Read more
At the time, Richard Williams' credit titles were thought to be better than the film they introduced. In retrospect, it is clear that while Woody Allen, who wrote the script and appears as the hero's friend, saw it as a satire on womanising - the O'Toole character is based on Warren Beatty - Clive Donner saw it as a morality tale in the form of a farce. The mixed results are entertaining, if flawed. O'Toole is the promiscuous hero...Read more
A perverse valentine to this coolest of Gallic beauties, Belle de jour stars Catherine Deneuve as Sverine, a Parisian housewife dressed in Yves Saint Laurent, who is married to Pierre (Sorel), a handsome, dull doctor. Sverine makes fervent protestations of love but cannot, alas, consummate; instead she succumbs to theatrically erotic reveries — of being whipped by two burly coachmen, pelted with shit while wearing a diaphanous white gown...Read more
Tati's Hulot on the loose in a surreal, scarcely recognisable Paris, tangling intermittently with a troop of nice American matrons on a 24-hour trip. Not so much a saga of the individual against an increasingly dehumanised decor, it's more a semi-celebratory symphony to Tati's sensational city-set, all reflections and rectangles, steel, chrome, gleaming sheet metal and trompe l'oeil plate glass. Shot in colour that looks almost like monochrome...Read more