French New Wave in Criterion Collection

“The French New Wave has influenced all filmmakers who have worked since, whether they saw the films or not. It submerged cinema like a tidal wave”

-Martin Scorsese

french new wave directors

Before writing this,I know this is gonna be the most challenging list I ever need to compose.The number of great directors and films related to French New Wave(Nouvelle Vague) is just so overwhelming,I could make dozens of  lists out of it(Obviously someone already did this,but I might still do more than one list).Simply put,French New Wave was the most innovating and vibrating film movement ever in cinema history.The techniques New Wave directors used were groundbreaking,natural lighting and sound,improvised acting,jump cut,long takes,they changed the grammar of cinema in nearly every category.It also inspired the New Waves worldwide,from Britain to Czechoslovak,from Japan to Hong Kong,even American New Cinema was heavily influenced by it.

Today I’m gonna focus on the French New Wave directors in Criterion Collection,including both Cahiers du cinéma directors and Left Bank directors,and other famous directors from this movement.


Cahiers du cinéma directors


Jean-Luc Godard

breathless Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960)

As probably one of the most influential auteur of the 20th century,Jean-Luc Godard made films like none of others. He challenged the traditional film making by his debut feature film Breathless,a tribute to the classic Hollywood crime genre,and made spins of it,he went against all the old rules of film making and made the film full of his unique aesthetics,the bed room scene with Belmondo and Seberg flirt with each other is a typical Gordardian scene,basically nothing happens plotwise but the audience still fell in love with the two adorable characters.After this he made a series of astounding films that established him as one of the greatest director in French New Wave,most of them tackle with subjects like love romance and politics,featuring his gorgeous and lovely ex-wife Anna Karina.Other Godard essential Godard films including Le Mépris (Contempt),Pierrot le fou (Crazy Pete) and Week End.

Films in Criterion:

Breathless (1960)

A Woman is a Woman (1961)

Vivre sa vie (1962)

Contempt (1963)

Band of Outsiders (1964)

Alphaville (1965)

Pierrout le fou (1965)

Masculin feminin (1966)

Made in U.S.A (1966)

Weekend (1967)

2 or 3 Things I Know about Her (1967)

Tout va bien (1972)


François Truffaut


 François Truffaut’s  The 400 Blows (1959)

François Truffaut is another important figure of launching the French New Wave,but did not receive the treatment from Criterion Collection as well as his “friend and enemy” Jean-Luc Godard,many of his essential films like The Soft Skin,Fahrenheit 451,Day for Night and The Story of Adele H. are missing from the collection,but his two most influential films The 400 Blows and Jules et Jim are both included.The most splendid thing Criterion has done with his films is The Antoine Doinel Cycle set with all four films about a man’s life,all featuring actor Jean-Pierre Léaud.

Films in Criterion:

The 400 Blows (1959)

Shoot the Piano Player (1960)

Jules and Jim (1962)

Stolen Kiss (1968)

Bed and Board (1970)

Love on the Run (1979)

The Last Metro (1980)


Eric Rohmer


 Eric Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s (1969)

Eric Rohmer‘s films are always about a bunch of young people talking about man-woman topics in beautiful resorts,long conversations,beautiful environment,lack of soundtrack and literature reference are some of his trademarks.Criterion dose not have Stories of Four Seasons and Comedies & Proverbs series in it,but the Six Moral Tales set is one of the best things in the entire collection,a series films that best represent Rohmer’s intelligent cinema.The last three,My Night at Maud’s,Claire’s Knee and Love in the Afternoon are considered to be better ones in the series.

Films in Criterion:

The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1963)

Suzanne’s Career (1963)

La Collectionneuse (1967)

My Night at Maud’s (1969)

Claire’s Knee (1970)

Love in the Afternoon (1972)


Claude Chabrol

Le Beau Serge

 Claude Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge (1958)

Claude Chabrol is considered to be one of the most prolific and mainstream director in French New Wave .Sadly Criterion only began to collect his films recently,it’s his first two feature films Le Beau Serge and Les Cousins,Le Beau Serge was inspired by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt,and after that he have made dozens of high quality thrillers in the next five decades,his classics such as La Femme infidèle,Le Boucher,Une affaire de femmes and La Cérémonie are still waiting for Criterion releases.

Films in Criterion:

Le Beau Serge (1958)

Les Cousins (1959)


Left Bank directors


Alain Resnais


 Alain Resnais’  Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

As one of the few living French New Wave directors,Alain Resnais‘ career spans over six decades, two of his most famous feature films were released by Criterion Collection,Hiroshima mon amour and Last Year at Marienbad,both of which deal with subjects like memories,imaginations and consciousness,especially the latter one,is considered to be the most beautiful and visually spellbinding films in French New Wave.Criterion also had his short documentary Night and Fog included,it stunned audiences with its distancing images,dramatic comparisons and poetic narrations,and remains as one of the best films about the Nazi holocaust and best documentaries ever made.

Films in Criterion:

Night and Fog (1955)

Hiroshima mon amour (1959)

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)


Agnès Varda

Cléo de 5 à 7

 Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962)

Often being called “the mother of French New Wave”,Agnès Varda is one of the underrated directors in the movement,her films are combinations of fictional and documentary elements,most notable one being Cléo from 5 to 7,a real time film about a pop singer’s day of life from 5pm to 7 pm.Her documentary style film Vagabond won her the Golden Lion award that year and is regarded as one of her best feminist work.

Films in Criterion:

La Pointe Courte (1955)

Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962)

Le Bonheur (1965)

Vagabond (1985)


Chris Marker


Chris Marker’s  La jetée (1963)

Passed away this year,Chris Marker will forever be remembered for his two films in Criterion Collection,La jetée and Sans Soleil.La jetée is a short time travel film which consists of dozens of still photos and only one movement,a one-of-a-kind film that is considered to be the prototype of the later sci-fi classic film Twelve Monkeys.Sans Soleil extends people’s concept of documentary with deep philosophical meanings.

Films in Criterion:

La jetée (1963)

Sans Soleil (1983)


Other Directors


Louis Malle

Elevator to the Gallows

 Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1957)

Louis Malle is a genius and Criterion loves him.He won both the Palme d’Or and Academy Award for Best Documentary with his debut film,a documentary called Le Monde du silence,and Criterion included more than half of the rest of his works,making him the second most selected director from French New Wave in the collection.Thanks to Criterion,fans are able to explore the wide range of this underrated French auteur films,from suspense film Elevator to the Gallows to fantasy film Zazie dans le métro,to war film Au revoir les enfants,to serious drama My Dinner with André,and don’t forget the eclipse set of his seven documentaries! It’s obvious Criterion is the best place to start with this man’s fantastic filmography.

Films in Criterion:

Elevator to the Gallows (1957)

The Lovers (1958)

Zazie dans le métro (1960)

The Fire Within (1963)

Murmur of the Heart (1972)

Lacombe, Lucien (1974)

Black Moon (1975)

My Dinner with André (1981)

Au revoir les enfants (1987)

Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)


It’s Your Turn

Who is your favorite French New Wave director? And whose work you plan to explore in Criterion Collection? Any discuss related to French New Wave is welcomed in the comments below.


Read other CC lists on Taste of Cinema