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Other New Wave Directors


Alain Resnais made his first feature, Hiroshima mon amour (Hiroshima, My Love, 1959), from a script by the gifted Marguerite Duras, about a young man and woman who meet in Hiroshima by chance and have a brief affair. He is Japanese and she is French. Throughout Hiroshima mon amour, the characters are referred to only as “she” and “he.” As the film concludes, we realize that both are really the embodiment of their respective countries; she is Nevers, in France, and he is Hiroshima, in Japan; the figurative embodiment of two cultures that collided with devastating consequences during World War II.

Resnais followed this with the memorable cinematic puzzle L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad, 1961), in which a man and woman meet in a grand, mysterious hotel and engage in a series of reminis grounds of the cavernous, crumbling hotel, Last Year at Marienbad, 1961). Marienbad is ultimately a riddle without a solution. It was nominated for numerous awards and won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Festival. Resnais’s other great film of the 1960s, Muriel ou Le temps d’un retour (Muriel, or The Time of Return, 1963), is an oblique commentary on France’s involvement in Algeria, in which a young man can’t forget his complicity in the torture and subsequent death of a young woman, Muriel, during the war in Algeria. Again manipulating space and time, Resnais uses what he termed “memory editing,” cutting between the past and the present, memory and reality, to create a haunting document of conscience and loss that lays bare the mechanisms of war, colonialism, and suppressed atrocity. La Guerre est finie (The War Is Over, 1966) and Je t’aime, je t’aime (I Love You, I Love You, 1968) are more conventional and do not approach the power of his earlier work.

Claude Chabrol

Known informally as “the French Hitchcock,” Claude Chabrol, another member of the Cahiers du Cinéma group, entered filmmaking promisingly with Le Beau Serge (Bitter Reunion, 1958) and Les Cousins (The Cousins, 1959), but he soon became identified with a string of stylish, highly commercial thrillers. Films such as Le Scandale (The Champagne Murders, 1967, shot in both French and English versions), Les Biches (The Does, 1968), and La Femme infidèle (The Unfaithful Wife, 1969) were marked by technical mastery and a certain cool precision that made Chabrol perhaps the most traditional of all the New Wave directors.

His other key films include the psychological crime thriller Le Boucher (The Butcher, 1970), in which a young schoolteacher, Hélène (Stéphane Au-dran, then married to Chabrol) meets a lonely butcher, Popaul (Jean Yanne), in a small French village. While their relationship deepens, Chabrol frames this unlikely romance against a series of murders of young girls, in which Popaul rapidly becomes a suspect. Is he guilty, or is it circumstance? Chabrol keeps the audience on the edges of their seats, offering tantalizing clues that may or may not implicate Popaul. Another major Chabrol film, La Rupture (The Breakup, 1970), presents a brutally funny examination of family life in which a young housewife (Stéphane Audran again) is nearly strangled by her out-of-control husband (Jean-Claude Drouot) during breakfast, only to respond by hitting him over the head with a frying pan to protect her young son from her husband’s violence. Chabrol weaves a complex tapestry of sinister family interconnections as the film progresses, even tossing LSD into the mix in the final moments. All this is played for mordant humor, with an air of cynical detachment, as if Chabrol is almost fond of the monsters he presents on screen. His cold, calculating vision is centered on the family as the root of all evil, and in later works, such as La Cérémonie (The Ceremony, a k a A Judgment in Stone, 1995) and La Fleur du mal (The Flower of Evil, 2003), he continues his investigation into the dark regions of the heart while maintaining his position as a highly bankable and now somewhat old-school director, whose primary role, he insists, is that of an entertainer.

Eric Rohmer, perhaps the most cerebral of the New Wave directors, made his feature-length directorial debut in 1959 with Le Signe du lion (The Sign of the Lion), but found his mature, contemplative style in such later films as La Collectionneuse (The Collector, 1967), Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night at Maud’s, 1969), and Le Genou de Claire (Claire’s Knee, 1970), in which his characters are involved in complex moral and romantic situations that typically resolve themselves in an unexpected manner. His films are created in cycles: his “Six Moral Tales” runs from 1962 to 1972, and his “Comedies and Proverbs” group was completed between 1980 and 1987. Rohmer’s camera movement recalls the rigorous compositions of Ozu and Bresson. He is as romantic and precise in his scenarios (he writes the screenplays for all his films) as either of these two great directors, and he allows his actors great latitude to get to the emotional core of the material. Like Chabrol, Rohmer remains active to the present day.

Documentarist Chris Marker made a definitive mark with La Jetée (The Pier, 1963), a short time-travel science fiction film composed almost entirely of still photographs (there is only one “moving” shot in the film, which is almost imperceptible) that delivers a fatalist message about the circular inevitability of nuclear war. La Jetée won the Prix Jean Vigo for its daring theme and inventive structure, and later served as the basis for Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1995). Marker continued with such films as Le Joli Mai (Lovely May, 1963), a documentary questioning average Parisians about the effects of the Algerian War; Le Mystère Koumiko (The Koumiko Mystery, 1965), a deeply personal documentary view of a young Japanese woman’s life during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; and such later films as the spellbinding Sans soleil (Sunless, 1983), a sort of ritualized documentary in which the camera travels to the four corners of the earth to bring back images and words that evoke the essence of time, reflection, and memory.

After her groundbreaking work on La Pointe Courte and her follow-up Cleo from 5 to 7, Agnès Varda made the beautiful but chilling Le Bonheur (Happiness, 1965), in which a young couple lives an idyllic life in the French countryside until the husband falls in love with another woman. He tells his wife and she drowns herself in a lake as a result. Then Varda presents us with the shocking conclusion: the husband marries his mistress, who takes the place of his wife as though she had never existed. The children adore their new “mother,” her husband worships her, and life goes on much as before. Varda is clearly suggesting that in contemporary French society, women are merely replaceable objects, to be dispensed with at whim. Shot in richly saturated color, bursting with light and sunshine, Le Bonheur may be the most beautiful “horror” film ever made.

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