Films are meant to, among other things, transport their audience. It is an art form with the ability to invite viewers to spend a night in the humid Hong Kong air, heavy with stolen glances and stolen spouses. Or hold the audience’s hand through the many dialects of the Chinese language as the director escorts viewers through the subtleties of a character’s sadness, as in “In the Mood for Love.” A film is also a window into a French dairy country cabin in World War II with pipe smoke snaking around, as in the opening scene of 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.” Or perhaps they prefer to stay in their Greenwich Village apartment — the one with the “Rear Window.”
But the movement I want to talk about exists in a different place and time entirely — The French New Wave. It disturbed the streets of Paris and wreaked havoc on the paradigms of cinema. The French New Wave didn’t just transport the audience — it also facilitated and created a transition in the way filmmakers think about the art form.
Starting in 1958 and continuing into the late ’60s, The French New Wave, known in French as the “La Nouvelle Vague,” sought to make films in a different style than the hyper-continuous aesthetic that had originated in Hollywood. Directors like François Roland Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Demy created a new language for film that gave the audience more credit. They believed their viewers would not only enjoy the narrative stories they told, but would also understand the artistic, formal choices having to do with time.
According to the title of Andrei Tarkovsky’s legendary book, cinema is “Sculpting in Time.” Until the New Wave, time on film was replicated as close to reality as possible: Days or weeks were sometimes compressed with a dissolve transition technique if a story had to be told over a long time, but still allowed the narrative beats to unfold minute by minute. New Wave directors abstracted time in two main ways: jump cuts and real time sequences. Both equally revolutionary and equally upsetting to the establishment, these techniques allowed for more complex stories to be created and began to really expand cinematic artistry beyond the page.