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TCM Spotlight: New Waves Around the World

TCM Spotlight: New Waves Around the World

Tuesdays in October / 26 Movies

Merriam-Webster defines New Wave as “a cinematic movement characterized by improvisation, abstraction, and subjective symbolism that often makes use of experimental photographic techniques.”

Also known as Nouvelle Vague, the New Wave began in France in the 1950s and blossomed there in the ’60s. The roots of the style were in Italian Neorealism, which began during World War II and continued into the postwar years. Britain and Japan offered their own variations on the theme. Overall, the movement had a profound effect upon international cinema.

TCM presents a collection of New Wave films from those four countries, ranging from some of the most-beloved films to lesser-known gems. Below, we sample both categories from the various countries.

Italian Neorealism considered everyday problems of common people and often utilized amateur actors and spontaneous photography. Its earthy realism was considered by many a refreshing alternative to the glamour of mainstream movies.

For Rome, Open City (1945), director Roberto Rossellini shot on the streets of the city, setting his film in 1944 and focusing on ordinary citizens coping with the Nazi occupation.

Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi star, with a supporting cast of non-professionals. The film was hugely influential in its naturalistic style and turned Magnani into an international star.

I Knew Her Well (1965) is a comedy-drama directed by Antonio Pietrangeli and starring Stefania Sandrelli as a young woman who arrives in Rome hoping to become a movie star but encounters the dark side of the film world.

Although well-known in its native Italy, this affecting character study had not been widely seen here until a restored print was shown in art houses and on TV, and the film was included in the Criterion Collection.

Other entries in our roundup of Italian Neorealism are La Strada (1954), Il Posto (1961), L’Eclisse (1962), and Mamma Roma (1962).

The French New Wave (or “Nouvelle Vague”) rejected traditional forms of filmmaking to experiment with new styles of narrative and technique. It became one of the most significant movements in the history of cinema.  

Le Coup du Berger (1956) is a short film (28 minutes) directed by Jacques Rivette and based on a story by Roald Dahl. It concerns an unfaithful wife who is given a mink coat by her lover and tries to hide the source of the gift from her husband.

This film has been called a “charming trifle.” Yet some observers feel it qualifies as the first entry in the French New Wave or at least a forerunner of it.

Breathless (1960) is a hugely innovative and influential work from director Jean-Luc Godard. He puts a new spin on the traditional “crime film” in this story of a small-time car thief (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his American girlfriend (Jean Seberg).

Godard created his own visual style with innovative filming and editing techniques (including “jump cuts”). Beyond that, with cowriter François Truffaut he created characters whose alienation and “cool” would be reflected in countless film performances to come. Critic Roger Ebert wrote that “Modern movies begin here.”

Other French New Wave films in our spotlight are Le Beau Serge (1958), The Lovers (1958), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Lola (1961), and Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962).

British New Wave was inspired by the French movement and, like that style of filmmaking, had a down-to-earth approach as it concentrated on the daily struggles of working-class characters. Generally, the films were shot in black and white on real locations in a cinéma vérité style and disdained any form of artificial glamour.

The British New Wave was short-lived, beginning in 1959 and ending roughly around 1965. Among the actors whose careers were bolstered by roles as “angry young men” in New Wave films were Alan Bates, Richard Burton, Tom Courtenay, Albert Finney, and Richard Harris. 

Room at the Top (1959), considered the first British New Wave film, was directed by Jack Clayton and stars Laurence Harvey as an opportunistic young man from a dreary English factory town. He moves to a more affluent city where he finds work as an accountant and woos his boss’s daughter (Heather Sears) while also having an affair with a lonely married woman (Simone Signoret).     

The film won Oscars for Signoret’s haunting performance and the evocative screenplay by Neil Paterson, based on the novel by John Braine. Its frank attitude about sexual matters was notable in comparison to American films of the period.

The Knack…and How to Get It (1965) is a zany sex comedy in the “mod” style from director Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night, 1964), set in “swinging London” and arriving at the end of the British New Wave cycle.

Michael Crawford plays a socially awkward young teacher who envies his more aggressive friend (Ray Brooks) for his “knack” in seducing women. Rita Tushingham upsets the balance as a country girl who appreciates the Crawford character and is immune to the lothario’s charms.       

Other British New Wave films screening on TCM are, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), A Taste of Honey (1961), This Sporting Life (1963), and Billy Liar (1963).

Japanese New Wave (Nūberu bāgu), like the other manifestations of the style, originated in the aftermath of World War II. In this setting the societal changes were especially radical and dramatic. Among other subjects, the films reflected the unrest and violence of the youth culture and the rise of crime and violence.

Japanese directors embraced the New Wave’s innovative methods of storytelling and technique, first within Japan’s studio system and then as independent filmmakers. The Japanese version of the style continued through the 1960s thanks to the efforts of the directors shown below, along with such others as Hiroshi Teshigahara, Seijun Suzuki, and Nagisa Oshima.      

Crazed Fruit (1956), made by a 29-year-old studio director named Kô Nakahira and shot in 17 days, was an early entry in the New Wave movement from any country and was greatly admired by François Truffaut and other filmmakers who pioneered the style.

The story, which develops tragic overtones, focuses on two privileged brothers (Masahiko Tsugawa and Yûjirô Ishihara) who enjoy a life of ease on the beach, water-skiing and chasing girls, until they become involved with a mysterious young woman.

The Insect Woman (1963), a historical epic with a satirical slant, tells of a woman who is born in poverty and makes her way with the tenacity of an insect, eventually entering the world of prostitution and becoming a madam.

The highly lauded Shōhei Imamura is the director, and Sachiko Hidari gives a bravura performance in the leading role. Tilt Magazine calls The Insect Woman “the most daring film ever to come from Japan.”

Other examples of the Japanese New Wave in our Spotlight include, One Way Ticket to Love (1960), The Sun’s Burial (1960), The Warped Ones (1960), and The Face of Another (1966).