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September 12, 2023

Early Short Films of the French New Wave


Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Alain Resnais, etc. - 1956-1968
Icarus Films Home Video BD Region A Two-disc set

To describe these nineteen short films as being part of the Nouvelle Vague is a bit misleading. What unifies this group of films is that they were all produced by Pierre Braunberger, who also produced several features by several of the directors. In the accompanying booklet, Braunberger is quoted as saying that he financed the short films to test the young directors prior to backing such films as Shoot the Piano Player and My Life to Live.

Along with the filmmakers who have been associated with either Cahier du Cinema or the Left Bank group, there are several directors either peripherally associated with the Nouvelle Vague because they were making films at the same time, as well as one film by a total outlier, the African-American Melvin Van Peebles. The other outsider is Jeanne Barbillon, though her short film stars Bernadette Lafont, providing a link to the other filmmakers. What little I could find out a Barbillon indicates that she directed on television film, but primarily worked as as Assistant Director for French television. It should be noted that the two films by Alain Resnais, "All the World's Memory" and "The Song of the Styrene" are also part of the previously released set of five shorts by Resnais.

What is frustrating, at least for me, was while the booklet provides an overview of Pierre Braunberger, some of the non-narrative films could have used some additional information for context. Agnes Varda's "O Saisons, O Chateaux" appears to be a combination travelogue and fashion shoot. With "In Memory of Rock" by Francois Reichenbach, born in 1921, and "The Fifteen Year Old Widows" by Jean Rouch, born in 1917, these two documentarians seem bewildered by youth and youth culture of the early 1960s.

Jacques Rivette's "Fool's Mate" (1958) might be considered the first all-star Nouvelle Vague film, both in front and behind the camera. The screenplay was co-written with Claude Chabrol and cinematographer Charles Bitsch, with Jean-Marie Straub serving as Assistant Director. One of the lead actors is Jean-Claude Brialy, who also appears in some of the other shorts in the collection, and would star in several features. Godard, Truffaut and Chabrol are briefly seen wandering in and out of frame in a party scene. The only mystery for me is why the delightful Virginie Vitry has such a short career that ended in 1960. The title comes from the relationship between a husband and wife presented as a chess game.

I would not have imagined a collaboration between Maurice Pialat and Claude Berri with what would seem to be opposing sensibilities, but "Janine" has Pialat working from Berri's screenplay. The story of two men unknowingly spending part of a late night talking about the same woman, ends on a note of wry humor. There is also fun with Godard's, "All the Boys are Called Patrick", with a screenplay by Eric Rohmer, with Jean-Claude Brialy in the title role. Godard's short is almost a mirror image of "Janine", though both films share an ending with the women getting the upper hand. There is about six hours of viewing altogether with the two discs - best to be seen a couple of films at a time rather than binging.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 12, 2023 06:11 AM