Friday, May 1, 2009

The wave turns 50

Monday marks the unofficial-official 50th anniversary of the birth of the French New Wave, for it was on 4 May 1959 that François Truffaut's first full-length feature The 400 Blows premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Truffaut's autobiographical tale of adolescent angst and rebellion was a sensation then, and of all the defining films of the New Wave has arguably held up the best in the intervening decades. If you want a good introduction to the movement/school/style this is a great place to start. Truffaut's films are more accessible, and tend to wear better, than those of his more provocative contemporaries such as Jean-Luc Godard. Among the many retrospectives marking the anniversary this one by Joe Queenan is the best I've read. He nails the significance and lasting legacy of this "unprecedented moment in the history of the elusive, gigantic wave surfers spend their lives hunting for, the new wave was a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon that would have no sequel." Not all the films of the New Wave have stood the test of time, but many have, and with the advent of home video new generations of film buffs can appreciate them anew. An era defined by a diverse group of filmmakers united in their desire to make great art, not product, is something worth celebrating.

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