The French Old Wave

The French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) was developed in the late 1950s and carried on through the 1960s. The first major cornerstone of the New Wave was Alexandre Astruc’s article, “The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: The Camera-Stylo[1]”, published in L’Écran in 1948. The magazine Cahiers du cinema continued to develop Astruc’s ideas through the writings of numerous influential film critics, many of whom would later become famed New Wave film directors, including François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Éric Rohmer. Another cornerstone of the New Wave was Truffaut’s 1954 article for Cahiers du cinema, “Une Certaine Tendance du Cinéma Français” (“A Certain Trend of French Cinema”) in which he openly criticized the French film industry and called out by name those he did not feel capable of carrying the industry forward.[2]

The New Wave would not have been possible without the auteur theory,[3] developed in the late 1940s. It identified the director as the major creative force in the filmmaking process – a film’s “author.”[4] It encouraged individualism and a break from the traditional practices of the past. This gave permission for the New Wave’s exploration of new techniques and themes. New Wave films were characterized by their frequent use of hand-held cameras, natural lighting, location filming, long takes, and jump cuts[5] and were produced on very limited budgets by small, independent companies, not the established film studios.

The New Wave was in direct opposition to the Tradition de Qualité (“Tradition of Quality”) that had guided French cinema to that point, with its emphasis on technique and traditional storytelling. Still, in that name is the acknowledgement that many admirable works preceded the New Wave, in what we’re calling the Old Wave.[6] Films from this period were directed by G.W. Pabst, Alexander Korda, Jean Cocteau, René Clair, and Luis Buñuel and featured performances from Conrad Veidt, Maurice Chevalier, Jacques Tati, Brigitte Bardot, and  Louis Jourdan.

In his two-volume work aptly titled French Cinema: A Critical Filmography, Colin Crisp provides a list of the best of French cinema from the introduction of sound through to the start of the New Wave (1930–1958). According to Crisp, each of the selected films satisfies at least two of the following criteria:

  • The film has survived in a viewable form (a large percentage have not, especially from the early 1930s).
  • The film is widely recognized as significant to the development of French cinema, because it was innovative, because of the personnel involved, or because of the popularity of the genre that it represents.
  • The film can be seen as representative of certain typical themes, techniques, or procedures common to many other films of the period, or that distinguish it from other films of the period.
  • The film has been the subject of debate and contention within the nation or the critical community.

In Crisp’s filmography, these 208 films represent the best of traditional French cinema. They are presented chronologically, rather than ranked, allowing each to be judged on its own merits. Each entry is accompanied by a critical review of the film, its contemporary context, and its ultimate impact on French cinema. And, as always, each is identified within the EIDR Content ID registry with links to third-party sources where more information about the works can be found.

[1] Camera-Stylo = Camera-Pen, the idea that filmmaking is a language written in light using film as the paper and the camera as the pen.

[2] It may be no surprise that Truffaut was the only major French film critic not invited to the 1958 Cannes Film Festival.

[3] Developed in France as La politique des auteurs (“The policy of authors”) by Alexandre Astruc, André Bazin, and Henri Langlois, but re-named the auteur theory by the American film critic Andrew Sarris.

[4] French directors no longer take the “directeur” credit, which now connotes a technician who does not work creatively, preferring instead “réalisateur,” which signifies the director-as-auteur with “both understanding and making that understanding fact.”

[5] The later Dogme 95 movement can trace its roots directly back to the French New Wave.

[6] If it’s the time before the New Wave, then it must be the Old Wave.

The Best of Traditional French Cinema

Title Year EIDR ID
L’Âge d’or 1930 10.5240/EC4D-81AD-D4A5-13A6-7699-X
Le Chemin du paradis 1930 10.5240/201D-86E3-B96B-42DE-17EB-P
La Petite Lise 1930 10.5240/D222-7445-54BE-E628-37A7-R
Prix de beauté 1930 10.5240/9F16-2516-A5AF-3575-CBA2-O
Le Roi des resquilleurs 1930 10.5240/DD2E-6252-EF0E-681D-1221-6
Sous les toits de Paris 1930 10.5240/69E8-D4EC-0E5F-0AA6-C1D2-F
À nous la liberté 1931 10.5240/04BD-76A2-AD12-9287-10CE-W
La Chienne 1931 10.5240/9DBC-CA87-D383-E060-595F-L
David Golder 1931 10.5240/9059-3456-8F41-E30F-686A-Y
Marius 1931 10.5240/407F-4126-E3AC-CE99-AA59-E
Le Million 1931 10.5240/8D41-B767-0A16-6414-DDDF-G
L’Opéra de quat’sous 1931 10.5240/DF4F-B714-126D-68C4-EDF9-T
Les 5 Gentlemen maudits 1932 10.5240/40AB-661C-99A7-FF9F-6B81-Y
L’Affaire est dans le sac 1932 10.5240/A1CA-C48B-D198-4D56-0899-B
L’Atlantide 1932 10.5240/2C64-EADF-6ED4-4EE3-FDF5-1
Boudu sauvé des eaux 1932 10.5240/9D9F-DA77-74BC-4CB7-1AE2-1
Croix de bois 1932 10.5240/DDA4-C733-2042-FEBC-B7CD-O
Les Gaietés de l’escadron 1932 10.5240/9641-6A67-A0B3-7DC2-68BB-0
Poil de carotte 1932 10.5240/25DF-5BE5-01E4-1C21-4DA5-C
Le Sang d’un poète 1932 10.5240/BF88-50B4-E6B3-3DA1-604E-L
Vampyr 1932 10.5240/620D-7464-F030-12C1-75FD-U
Cette vieille canaille 1933 10.5240/C133-BC40-1EA7-F9D9-BAC9-3
L’Homme à l’Hispano 1933 10.5240/185E-07B1-6AC4-499D-BC96-V
La Maternelle 1933 10.5240/C4CE-A411-DEEF-2D77-1DF9-R
Quatorze juillet 1933 10.5240/CF73-8367-D275-0A4C-BB0E-K
Théodore et Cie 1933 10.5240/944B-0929-E499-6ED0-64B5-S
Zéro de conduite 1933 10.5240/27A9-2DBC-ECCB-657A-6EBB-T
Angèle 1934 10.5240/3664-C614-9254-41DC-67C1-J
L’Atalante 1934 10.5240/9760-5A45-8452-65A0-9CE5-K
Ces messieurs de la Santé 1934 10.5240/6CB0-4EA5-5D39-734A-FE54-N
La Croisière jaune 1934 10.5240/B2C6-F39E-A11E-F0CB-910B-A
Le Grand Jeu 1934 10.5240/4240-868D-898E-3180-DB3D-Y
L’Hôtel du Libre Échange 1934 10.5240/78C6-75CE-4B7F-42DC-E9A1-5
La Rue sans nom 1934 10.5240/8137-AC82-522A-AA43-4AA7-C
Si j’étais le patron 1934 10.5240/B39D-A2C5-12BE-1994-DE5C-Z
La Bandera 1935 10.5240/2BD5-7880-D256-388A-EF2E-8
Le Bonheur 1935 10.5240/A31D-4C8F-4853-EF9D-CEC2-P
Crime et châtiment 1935 10.5240/09ED-6ED0-B195-DAF6-496E-B
L’Équipage 1935 10.5240/9CF5-0FCD-EE1D-9FCD-ED8D-Z
Justin de Marseille 1935 10.5240/B55E-B206-9037-15B3-D2B3-F
La Kermesse héroïque 1935 10.5240/B100-6DD1-1475-D23E-1D68-B
Pension Mimosas 1935 10.5240/67A2-4312-5B6A-E2B5-F3E5-Y
Princesse Tam-Tam 1935 10.5240/BDB6-4B61-42A2-69C4-819B-T
Quelle drôle de gosse 1935 10.5240/5ADD-304C-268C-7D68-223B-1
Toni 1935 10.5240/8349-AD72-14C2-3449-8248-T
L’Appel du silence 1936 10.5240/5E67-D0F4-0FE2-14A6-AE16-3
La Belle Équipe 1936 10.5240/F5C4-A463-5EE5-CAE8-8EE1-G
César 1936 10.5240/DB89-0373-4810-D466-635F-W
Le Crime de Monsieur Lange 1936 10.5240/8398-E796-8DAF-3AB3-7FEB-B
Jenny 1936 10.5240/EA98-CA80-BD9C-DDB3-7744-U
Razumov or Sous les yeux d’Occident 1936 10.5240/D917-C48E-03E3-5197-52C5-2
Le Roman d’un tricheur 1936 10.5240/76FD-43FF-DB1D-F072-A9AD-9
La Terre qui meurt 1936 10.5240/09B4-8E2C-94C9-57C2-32FC-Z
Une partie de campagne 1936 10.5240/BC5B-91F0-CCF4-6B0F-6712-B
Abus de confiance 1937 10.5240/BF8E-6916-2982-EA22-7519-V
L’Alibi 1937 10.5240/2D7D-9BAC-6835-06D7-D29E-F
La Dame de Malacca 1937 10.5240/B1BC-D7C7-8219-04B0-F573-N
Désiré 1937 10.5240/B4B4-B8EF-91AE-D606-39B7-G
Drôle de drame 1937 10.5240/0B78-DD5C-EEAA-1B99-C473-2
La Grande Illusion 1937 10.5240/1709-684E-DA44-499C-19E0-V
Gribouille 1937 10.5240/2D25-6126-978F-58B8-44CD-X
Gueule d’amour 1937 10.5240/2254-B036-1EC9-CFF8-0432-F
L’Homme de nulle part 1937 10.5240/354A-B50D-33C2-81E6-198E-3
Marthe Richard au service de la France 1937 10.5240/7CF7-D741-8227-34C8-8E12-7
Messieurs les Ronds-de-Cuir 1937 10.5240/5922-E17B-8C7B-D48B-3D8C-F
Naples au baiser de feu 1937 10.5240/AA8E-48D0-990D-EA1E-5E21-T
Pépé le Moko 1937 10.5240/3EB9-D8EB-798C-6ED3-9FC9-5
Regain 1937 10.5240/EC03-F796-C8F3-59CB-C0C8-9
Sarati le terrible 1937 10.5240/30AE-FACA-2582-BFA0-799F-B
Un carnet de bal 1937 10.5240/53AF-62D8-51B1-6AA3-FFB1-X
La Bête humaine 1938 10.5240/1FDC-3376-F143-A65B-B7D5-Z
Carrefour 1938 10.5240/C2FF-8592-8ED8-1552-30F5-M
Les Disparus de Saint-Agil 1938 10.5240/50ED-BD4E-A26E-435C-7919-G
Le Drame de Shanghaï 1938 10.5240/3A0A-C314-F428-B30C-3B48-8
Entrée des artistes 1938 10.5240/3C1A-B396-C439-2E57-9A11-1
L’Étrange Monsieur Victor 1938 10.5240/AF2F-6458-7CDF-72AE-6281-Y
La Femme du boulanger 1938 10.5240/2E07-5A36-8AF2-1A80-F42F-E
Hôtel du Nord 1938 10.5240/89EC-5B83-BD5B-CF88-DB68-1
Le Joueur d’échecs 1938 10.5240/50AC-C0DC-E939-E534-4146-4
La Maison du Maltais 1938 10.5240/A724-89E6-807B-EB85-F845-8
La Marseillaise 1938 10.5240/A535-3E7E-69FF-72C1-45F6-M
Mollenard 1938 10.5240/2E4A-B4EA-ECC3-6F93-C652-L
Monsieur Coccinelle 1938 10.5240/F975-36DD-52E5-5369-187E-9
Prison sans barreaux 1938 10.5240/5A2F-7EC6-3CB3-CEC9-C865-Y
Prisons de femmes 1938 10.5240/75AD-4576-89F7-CD05-4A81-2
Quai des brumes 1938 10.5240/3743-DF04-D478-D489-F9C9-3
Remontons les Champs-Élysées 1938 10.5240/02A7-9C79-FF76-23D3-F011-V
La Route enchantée 1938 10.5240/D0D0-7B74-ABF8-DD2F-3A67-0
La Tragédie impériale 1938 10.5240/0867-423E-D440-D7E3-8631-W
Tricoche et Cacolet 1938 10.5240/24DE-1530-E5B1-4B96-CF68-T
Trois Valses 1938 10.5240/D8D2-E514-8ACB-A8A3-5EA0-O
Circonstances atténuantes 1939 10.5240/52E1-ADEE-4602-E0A1-5174-0
La Fin du jour 1939 10.5240/69CD-34C5-FEB6-575D-AB6C-L
Fric-Frac 1939 10.5240/1693-E72D-C7F5-4659-7D34-2
Le Jour se lève 1939 10.5240/4BE2-4CD9-40B6-74A3-10AB-V
Métropolitain 1939 10.5240/9F90-2F71-38D6-D93F-504F-E
La Règle du jeu 1939 10.5240/42EB-BE43-8D3F-2BEF-3020-G
Sans lendemain 1939 10.5240/B56D-9B13-F46D-F033-93A2-M
Battement de coeur 1940 10.5240/9CDE-6880-8A78-4EE0-CEE2-Z
La Fille du puisatier 1940 10.5240/F903-EF7B-0903-EAB1-4E54-J
Menaces 1940 10.5240/CF61-5F2A-DC9C-3E5D-872C-S
L’Assassinat du père Noël 1941 10.5240/6A3F-7B04-1928-EB41-756A-M
Nous les gosses 1941 10.5240/023B-6243-3898-3666-3803-U
Premier Rendez-vous 1941 10.5240/6CAB-20E0-C3D6-3283-0DDD-T
Remorques 1941 10.5240/D202-4343-78B7-46DF-EDF0-F
L’Assassin habite au 21 1942 10.5240/594E-B194-83B7-A8F8-FED2-3
Haut-le-Vent 1942 10.5240/0385-57FC-0E91-61B5-258C-Z
Les Inconnus dans la maison 1942 10.5240/CF67-3DD0-36EA-8D44-504A-Z
Le Lit à colonnes 1942 10.5240/15E6-1831-60D0-76DE-B946-C
Macao, ou L’Enfer du jeu 1942 10.5240/3DE0-B376-B5DB-ACFA-DC93-U
Le Mariage de Chiffon 1942 10.5240/5F9E-FAF4-FF51-C190-D7E6-E
La Nuit fantastique 1942 10.5240/0501-48A8-AAC7-1FE1-3502-P
Pontcarral, colonel d’Empire 1942 10.5240/8A9D-9616-1571-4A47-678E-S
Les Visiteurs du soir 1942 10.5240/730C-0520-6DB7-00E4-F286-E
Le Voile bleu 1942 10.5240/EF2D-E480-9A41-5B80-4AEA-8
Adieu Léonard 1943 10.5240/8D43-F1C5-7E54-CA60-4FF5-7
Les Anges du péché 1943 10.5240/114F-B7B7-1E94-2476-750D-4
Le Corbeau 1943 10.5240/3142-2D77-D3D0-F570-5566-V
Douce 1943 10.5240/E94E-97CC-F958-07A4-F70B-J
L’Éternel Retour 1943 10.5240/31EF-27C6-5E07-F6B2-749C-S
Goupi Mains-Rouges 1943 10.5240/F22B-ECBD-C8E0-7E1C-5F94-S
L’Inévitable Monsieur Dubois 1943 10.5240/2808-F2EC-6F7C-527B-7B2A-G
Jeannou 1943 10.5240/E38C-2DB9-A4E7-A3CC-0246-5
Lumière d’été 1943 10.5240/17B8-734C-5753-7326-22A6-Z
Marie-Martine 1943 10.5240/1A8D-0FE9-F7F8-E1EA-A25A-9
Voyage sans espoir 1943 10.5240/9292-21B2-B8E2-20EA-456C-0
Le Carrefour des enfants perdus 1944 10.5240/81B7-8170-1DCE-2AB3-0A18-V
Le Ciel est à vous 1944 10.5240/BA1D-E946-EE76-C917-514A-D
Florence est folle 1944 10.5240/4026-9421-0EDD-E30B-6C1C-F
Premier de cordée 1944 10.5240/B873-FC5B-705B-AA05-252B-T
Le Voyageur sans bagages 1944 10.5240/780D-EF2A-C62C-6834-ADDA-F
Boule de Suif 1945 10.5240/D3C7-AB65-8551-D9FC-2019-D
Les Dames du bois de Boulogne 1945 10.5240/1436-1754-3602-D55F-A3F2-B
Les Enfants du paradis 1945 10.5240/A1CC-9236-FB7D-C203-0606-D
Sortilèges 1945 10.5240/E8A0-C5D5-BAC3-175E-C3C1-8
La Bataille du rail 1946 10.5240/64EB-460A-E8E4-3511-0165-T
La Belle et la bête 1946 10.5240/0D2B-A36F-BC07-EBAC-3D79-W
La Fille du diable 1946 10.5240/571C-8831-9B16-FAB2-1A5A-C
L’Idiot 1946 10.5240/1D42-8E11-01E4-CF9D-0B9F-Y
Macadam 1946 10.5240/C003-F403-1917-0C38-8534-X
Le Père tranquille 1946 10.5240/F4D4-6C44-2F84-4798-9EF4-D
Les Portes de la nuit 1946 10.5240/F63B-A40F-F8C2-E2EE-DFE7-Y
Sérénade aux nuages 1946 10.5240/B90B-56C9-F3E6-067C-1117-4
La Symphonie pastorale 1946 10.5240/3F81-53FA-9A20-8A9A-5B8A-Z
Un revenant 1946 10.5240/F9D5-9FF8-74C9-A12F-2E8E-J
Antoine et Antoinette 1947 10.5240/4EFD-E99F-4A26-7349-6071-7
Le Diable au corps 1947 10.5240/351A-0C01-E33C-F212-0F18-L
Farrebique 1947 10.5240/C51C-4F27-FA71-E31D-109A-I
Monsieur Vincent 1947 10.5240/8D9A-C98B-A5DA-EDE4-3B20-M
Panique 1947 10.5240/479C-41E8-3FAB-0CAC-5A22-W
Quai des Orfèvres 1947 10.5240/AC1E-F4DA-296B-A1C9-9ABE-Y
Le Silence est d’or 1947 10.5240/68C5-B615-E575-1B0F-BEA7-4
La Danse de mort 1948 10.5240/4589-D66C-2DE5-0A3C-4595-H
Dédée d’Anvers 1948 10.5240/482E-1101-A606-022C-ED53-8
Les Dernières Vacances 1948 10.5240/62AB-4E3D-1C2C-5E17-CF13-B
Impasse des Deux Anges 1948 10.5240/53D9-0A34-608E-1450-BFC9-V
Les Parents terribles 1948 10.5240/CADD-81D3-9516-AFED-9D3C-4
La Vie est à nous 1948 10.5240/E680-F62F-B374-F94E-27EA-9
Au-delà des grilles 1949 10.5240/9EBD-5222-A12D-CD65-75E2-M
L’École buissonnière 1949 10.5240/A101-591A-091C-9D3F-625C-A
Jour de fête 1949 10.5240/E527-894A-9D71-D5A9-0D1C-L
Les Paysans noirs 1949 10.5240/B415-F400-E769-C819-6C05-J
Le Printemps de la liberté 1949 10.5240/6BDC-D8E1-4C33-3456-9F45-K
Rendez-vous de juillet 1949 10.5240/4456-7298-743B-9952-4BFF-V
Retour à la vie 1949 10.5240/2D7F-9B05-90D5-E4D2-F30E-6
Le Silence de la mer 1949 10.5240/F015-BE3A-5BFF-1BC5-080B-Q
Une si jolie petite plage 1949 10.5240/137C-6AA3-A0A5-5DA5-1A4A-Q
La Beauté du diable 1950 10.5240/2A10-B0EB-7783-EDB3-DA9D-B
Justice est faite 1950 10.5240/C9A2-6EA7-95AE-A582-7C64-1
Manèges 1950 10.5240/1C3C-6A9F-70BB-A870-500E-Z
La Marie du Port 1950 10.5240/5EFA-57EB-9C92-2D95-2611-G
Meurtres 1950 10.5240/A6B3-2265-5079-AB82-217A-3
Orphée 1950 10.5240/444E-71A0-F82C-D041-15ED-C
La Ronde 1950 10.5240/7B53-D879-67C7-6E0C-9BCA-F
L’Auberge rouge 1951 10.5240/52D4-D7CB-F091-2DFC-E3BD-8
Le Journal d’un curé de campagne 1951 10.5240/62F5-D7A4-A1DC-31E2-E45D-F
Juliette, ou la clé des songes 1951 10.5240/937A-C0B3-6A5E-2D24-AD05-I
Les Belles de Nuit 1952 10.5240/1FCF-3CD1-2ACB-AECC-4E4E-L
Casque d’Or 1952 10.5240/8270-5300-362B-58B5-99EC-P
La Fête à Henriette 1952 10.5240/4DC6-EFD0-E0C1-6BDB-E161-7
Jeux interdits 1952 10.5240/31D1-75C2-D4D5-0735-C56B-N
Nous sommes tous des assassins 1952 10.5240/6947-BA67-414D-BC5B-E91C-N
Le Petit Monde de Don Camillo 1952 10.5240/69B8-9563-38F1-C05F-453B-E
Le Plaisir 1952 10.5240/A565-F1BC-61E3-95C1-AB79-T
La Vérité sur Bébé Donge 1952 10.5240/11C5-A62E-E7A3-34D3-C000-2
Le Carrosse d’or 1953 10.5240/0EC1-2ECA-73F9-C277-285B-6
Madame de . . . 1953 10.5240/590C-39C2-EDAD-9369-6266-F
Manon des Sources 1953 10.5240/6250-D4DC-347E-48B2-DCF4-8
La Môme vert-de-gris 1953 10.5240/BBE0-1A43-4B9C-4F61-E82E-3
Les Orgueilleux 1953 10.5240/8D45-CE32-1FBC-FC86-2B13-F
Le Salaire de la peur 1953 10.5240/3AA2-475C-8C4F-E10A-5CE0-6
L’Amour d’une femme 1954 10.5240/E692-87BA-980D-ED4C-CFB0-A
Le Rouge et le noir 1954 10.5240/5C5B-28EB-9E4B-CD7C-52C7-X
Si Versailles m’était conté 1954 10.5240/EA23-62B5-F2D3-AC43-E51E-L
Touchez pas au grisbi 1954 10.5240/93CE-D3E9-A068-9EF3-0EF5-O
Du rififi chez les hommes 1955 10.5240/4158-1B23-DFC3-AC7B-19B7-0
French Cancan 1955 10.5240/8C9B-0884-8D58-F6F0-F064-U
Les Grandes Manoeuvres 1955 10.5240/4D9A-57A6-7D02-1BE8-8F0C-Y
Lola Montès 1955 10.5240/8A1B-B8CF-B12E-274B-6A42-3
Cela s’appelle l’aurore 1956 10.5240/A6AE-9D9C-5DCE-5BEF-83F8-X
Et Dieu . . . créa la femme 1956 10.5240/67D8-371A-4196-1575-4951-X
Le Mystère Picasso 1956 10.5240/8598-27A4-8519-42DE-2243-T
La Traversée de Paris 1956 10.5240/B777-A7F0-CB9C-2D4A-8C5C-B
Un condamné à mort s’est échappé 1956 10.5240/A700-954D-9FF3-8499-C4F7-3
Porte des Lilas 1957 10.5240/6A31-B3A5-A7D1-B545-FEE2-2
L’Eau vive 1958 10.5240/0867-878E-A65B-6C5C-789F-3
Mon oncle 1958 10.5240/93FD-145C-3734-3E4C-BA64-M
Les Tricheurs 1958 10.5240/A8B2-BD5F-571E-A69E-4586-0