The French New Wave or ‘Nouvelle Vague’ is the most famous cinematic movement in history that began around the year 1960 and ended in the early ‘70s. Techniques we take for granted today were catapulted into mainstream use by the colossal exposure the most famous artists behind the Nouvelle Vague were afforded: People like Jean Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Agnes Varda. It remains a pivotal explosion of creativity crucial to the advancement of the medium which inspired other, perhaps greater New Waves in Eastern Europe during the 1960s. Here is the list of top French new wave films ever. You can watch some of these French new wave movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
15. L’ Atalante (1934)
Starting off with a caveat: Jean Vigo’s 1934 film pre-dates the Nouvelle Vague by several decades, but the impact of this previously underseen work’s resurgence and co-incidental meetings with main New Wave players like Jean-Luc Goddard and Francois Truffaut qualifies its place here because it’s a key reason why this list even exists. There are countless visionaries to match Vigo in the 20s-30s and even more adept directors on the scene than he was before a tragic premature death- but ‘L’ Atalante’ assembles so many uniquely original flourishes in a wholly cohesive work of art that the influence on French directors of the 60s is crystal clear. It’s a stream of limitless possibilities realized by someone who screwed the rules and decided to shoot a simple story with a remarkable amount of cinematic charisma. From its water-bound use of haunting multiple exposure to the quietly charming wordless exchanges of its two lovers, few landmark movies can match ‘L’ Atalante’. If it had actually come out during the period, this would be a hell of a lot higher.
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14. Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Francois Truffaut’s follow-up to the much acclaimed ‘The 400 Blows’, ‘Shoot the Piano Player’ takes a uniquely passive approach to crime cinema- settling it comfortably into the liquid cool of Nouvelle Vague-era Paris and allowing the story to unfurl at its own compelling pace. It develops the keen ambition present in his debut whilst not taking it as far as later works like Day for Night– abundantly confident in its own skin and never straying too far to impress. Instead, Truffaut’s realization of a criminal world far less savage and deadly than that of contemporary Jean-Pierre Melville is intoxicatingly romantic. A key primer for the untainted boldness of the French New Wave, be it in patient studies or intense poetry. In places, ‘Shoot the Piano Player’ finds a magical mix of the two.