At its peak from roughly 1958 to 1964, the French New Wave was a movement led by a group of young filmmakers that included Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette. The idea of a New Wave film was that it should seem personal and freewheeling, as opposed to the corporate and highly polished movies being produced by the studios. Below I have listed in alphabetical order five of the best of the French New Wave films.
1. 'The 400 Blows' (1959)
The 400 Blows is a lyrical and accessible movie that appears on most lists of great films. I'd say it's the best movie ever made about adolescence. The film is semi-autobiographical, and I imagine that's one of the reasons it has such a strong emotional pull. The movie feels free-flowing and spontaneous, and even though writer-director François Truffaut avoids sentimentality, he fills his movie with warmth and humor.
2. 'Breathless' (1960)
Breathless is a landmark French New Wave film and one of the most influential movies in cinema history. I find it one of the most entertaining of the great movies because it is fast-paced, witty, and above all romantic. Breathless still looks fresh to 21st-century audiences. The sheer genius of its exuberant filmmaking technique is as vibrant and modern as anything being done today. Also, the societal issues explored are still relevant.
3. 'Hiroshima mon amour' (1959)
Alain Resnais' influential, innovative Hiroshima mon amour is a deeply moving, compelling, lyrical masterwork, and I am amazed at its resonance and complexity. I feel that more than anything else this movie is about the mutable nature of memory and of love. Much of the film's power derives from its theme of people having to partially forget the pain of their pasts to survive in the present.
4. 'Jules and Jim' (1962)
A lively exploration of romantic love and friendship, François Truffaut's French-language Jules and Jim is one of my favorite films. The story chronicles the intertwined lives of three European intellectual bohemians from 1912 to 1933. I think Jeanne Moreau creates an unforgettable character in Catherine, the free-spirited woman loved by a pair of best friends, the two men for whom the film is named. She is a femme fatale who sets up a whirlpool around her that leads to tragedy.