Masculin feminin

In Praise of the French New Wave: Summer at the Cinematheque

Starting this weekend, Cinematheque Ontario will run a summer-long screening series, Nouvelle Vague: The French New Wave, Then and Now in celebration of the movement's 50th anniversary.

The 36 film programme, on from July 3 to August 22, includes essential New Wave classics like Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless and François Truffaut's The 400 Blows, mixed in with works by lesser know filmmakers, and a few recent titles from the seminal directors.

Fifty years old and programmers are still calling it the Nouvelle Vague, with similar anniversary events running in New York, London, and at Cannes this year. I'm referring, of course, to the original French New Wave, a surge of mould-breaking filmmakers from France that came to fame at the turn of the 1960s (Godard, Truffaut, Rivette, Rohmer, Chabrol) and have dominated the international arthouse scene for the past five decades.

Jean-Luc Godard gets center stage, opening the series this Friday with Une femme est une femme (A Woman Is A Woman, 1961). Godard can be arty and boring. There, I said it. He throws in random elements and titles, has actors breaking into a song or dance, and completely rejects conventional narrative structure. The results are some of the most beautiful films ever made, while others make me want to roll my eyes and shake my head.

Godard's storylines are as unique as his style. In Une femme est une femme, a stripper fails to convince her boyfriend to get her pregnant, so the pair considers whether she would be better off with his best friend.

Pierrot le fou (1965) on July 7th stands out in this set. Ferdinand or 'Pierrot' (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his babysitter/mistress Marianne (Anna Karina), flee to the Mediterranean to get away from his wife and a gang of hit-men. And Masculin féminin (1966) on August 8th is a clever romantic comedy/pop culture commentary, with then pop star Chantal Goya playing the lead. Shallow and intelligent at the same time, both films are all about being young and gorgeous and involved in subversive politics.

I never get tired of revisiting François Truffaut, easily one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Along with helming movies like The Bride Wore Black and Fahrenheit 451 later in the 1960s, the beloved French auteur is responsible for quintessential New Wave classics like Shoot the Piano Player (1960) on August 13th and Jules and Jim (1962) on July 4th. A must-see is the double-bill on July 23rd, Les Mistons (The Brats, 1957) and The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups, 1959), the film that won Truffaut the best director prize at Cannes and officially launched the movement.

For more details about the 30 or so films that I haven't mentioned here and showtimes, visit the Cinematheque website.

Nouvelle Vague: The French New Wave, Then and Now runs from July 3 to August 22 at Jackman Hall, 317 Dundas Street West. Still from Masculin féminin courtesy of Cinematheque Ontario.

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