What distinguishes a film movement from mere experimentation are the theories and philosophies created by and from that experimentation. The French New Wave directors were experimenting, but even when it seemed like they were pulling stuff out of their derrieres, they were actually taking risks based on their philosophical outlook towards cinema.
For example, the main character of Godard’s “Breathless” (played by actor Jean Paul Belmondo) breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to the audience, and also models his image after the real-life film actor Humphrey Bogart. For Godard, this speaks to his belief that cinema can engage the audience in new ways, and also how film’s role as a mass media has already changed our everyday lives. And again, while the French New Wave directors definitely loved movies, they still arrived at these philosophies by studying not just films, but poetry, literature, art, history and politics. They loved to read as much as they loved to watch – so if you viewed our video and are also reading this article, that’s a French New Wave level up.
Take a film like “Jules and Jim” for example. It’s a story about a love triangle between three friends, but it’s also about the social upheaval and historical unrest in the early 20th century. How do we know this? Because director Truffaut edited newsreel footage from events like World War I and the onset of Nazi Germany into the actual film.
Or how about Agnès Varda’s “Cleo from 5 to 7?” It’s a look at a day in the life of a self-absorbed pop singer (basically the premise of thousands of YouTube videos) except it also deals with issues of mortality, feminism and even the controversial French war in Algeria. Their experiments were pointing to a bigger picture: the undeniable truths of their times.