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In the late 1950s the phenomena that became known as French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) exploded onto the screens. With a heavy focus on girls, guns and iconoclasm these films drew on the influences of Italian Neorealism and classicalHollywoodcinema. Highly stylised, often shunning traditional narrative, they were characterised by experimental quick-editing, hand-held camera techniques and their self-aware visual style.
The poster campaigns and promotional material that accompanied them was equally striking and effective. Here we take a look at ten of the most challenging, revolutionary and talked-about movie posters that manage to sum up two hours of footage in one iconic image.
1. A Bout De Soufflé (Breathless) – 1960
The release of this ground-breaking movie, starring Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo brought the attention of the world to the Nouvelle Vague movement. Directed by Jean Luc Godard, it follows the whirlwind romance of petty criminal Michel and his American girlfriend, Patricia. Breathless introduced many of the techniques that were later to define the Nouvelle Vague movement – jump cuts and a strong visual style. The movie original artwork is in true Saul Bass style; hardly surprising since a Hitchcockian influence can be felt throughout the movie. The vertical stripes and bold use of colour are particularly reminiscent of Bass’s earlier work, most notably The Man with Golden Arm (1955).
2. Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim) – 1962
Francois Truffaut’s seminal 1962 film, Jules and Jim, is set around the period of the First World War and focuses on the entangled affair of three bohemian friends, played by Oskar Werner, Henri Serre and the sublime Jeanne Moreau. The film incorporates many of the definitive techniques of French New Wave cinema, including the use of newsreel footage, still photography, lightweight cameras, spanning shots and narration. Equally enigmatic of this era is the movie’s original poster, which features an illustrative depiction of Catherine (Moreau). As the epitome of the Nouvelle Vague femme-fatale, Catherine exudes an innocent sexuality and a care-free but infectious appeal which sums up the genre’s impossibly polarised depictions of femininity.
3. Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live) – 1962
The bleak and disturbing Vivre Sa Vie, starring Godard-muse Anna Karina, tells the tragic story of Nana (literally translated as ‘girl’). It uses Brechtian story-telling techniques and is divided into 12 chapters to portray each significant shift in her life and untimely demise. Nana leaves behind her husband and young son in order to pursue a career as a movie star. Without money, she eventually falls into prostitution and is fatally shot during a disagreement between two pimps, as they attempt to buy and sell her. The movie poster accompanying the film uses a colour scheme which is synonymous with late 1950s domesticity; pastel pink and turquoise. Against this use of episodic block colour, black and white shots of Nana are fore-grounded, in what appears to be an attempt to juxtapose the two different lives the beautiful Parisian attempts, and fails, to live in.
4. Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle) – 1970
Gritty, severe and stark, The Red Circle is a steady-paced movie that centres on the chance encounters of three criminals and their effortlessly elegant jewellery store heist. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and starring Alain Delon, Bouvril and Gian Maria Volonté it runs at a brief 60-minutes and takes its understated influences from the film-noir cinema of Raymond Chandler. This poster’s spare style reflects this perfectly, from the minimal use of red, white and black to the muted headshots by cinema photographer Henri Decae.
5. Alphaville – 1965
Another Godard- Karina collaboration, Alphaville is a science-fiction and film noir inspired crime story. Starring a trench-coat wearing Eddie Constantine the movie’s dystopian backdrop, filled with glass and concrete buildings, is perfectly captured in this poster. The typeface has echoes of the influential 1927 German film Metropolis, while the iconic shots of Karina and Constantine introduce the classic loner and femme fatale of the film noir underworld.
6. Bande à Part (Band of Outsiders) – 1964
Ranked as number 79 in Empire magazine’s 100 Best Films of World Cinema, Bande à Part, with its iconic scenes and charmingly delicate crime-thriller plotline has gone on to become one of the nouvelle vague movement’s most accessible movies. Tarantino cites this film as the influence behind the iconic dance routine in Pulp Fiction, and Godard himself described it as “Alice in Wonderland meets Kafak” – a juxtaposition which can be clearly felt in this cartoonesque, yet violent artwork.
7. Le Bonheur (Happiness) – 1965
Directed by Agnès Varda, and telling the story of the passionate affair between a married man and a young woman, this film uses beautifully delicate colours to paint a touchingly intimate portrayal of a man in love with two women. The movie’s original artwork reflects this through the contrast of the bleached out headshot with warm bursts of orange overlaid stills from the movie.
8. Les Bonnes Femmes (The Good Girls) – 1960
This early and controversial work by director Claude Chabrol centres around the exploits of four attractive women and their often disastrous relationships with men. With Hitcockian fatalism, this movie has an intense documentary-like realism with humour undercut by dark threats and a sense of growing unease. This poster is a summary of these themes, thanks to the blatant sexuality of the pin up style illustration and expressions of sensuality and trepidation on the faces of the three women.
9. Celine et Julie Vont en Bateau (Celine and Jim Go Boating) – 1974
A chance meeting between two women turns into a childish adventure of identity swapping, magic and escapism. Directed by Jacques Rivette and starring Dominique Labourier and Juliet Berto, we can clearly see the influence of fantasy and role play in the original artwork, featuring a flying top hat, bold colours and a playfully cursive typeface.
10. Tirez Sur Le Pianiste (Shoot the Pianist) – 1960
This stylised B-movie homage by Francois Truffaut is characterised by its fast pace, shifting tone and unexpected twists. A thought-provoking look at commercialism and art, it focuses on the musical obsession of a pianist (Pierre Braunberger) as he strives to escape the trauma of his wife’s suicide. This poster combines elements of high art with a cartoon-like typography, imbued with a dash of cynical fatalism courtesy of a bullet-ridden target.
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