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Figure 1.2 L'Année dernière à Marienbad and Varda for a very long time was - certainly so far as non-French audiences were concerned - seemingly the only one of her kind. Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) tells in real time the story of a singer who suspects she may have cancer. Hope and encouragement are given to her by a young conscript soldier she meets in the Pare Montsouris while waiting for the result of hospital tests - a scene given particular poignancy by the fact that he is at the end of a period of leave from Algeria. The counterposing of a life under threat from within and one under threat from without figures the interplay of the personal and the political we have already seen at work in Hiroshima mon amour, as well as suggesting how film-makers found ways of incorporating references to the Algerian War into their work without falling foul of the censor. Varda's other work in this period was in the short or documentary format, apart from the ironic love triangle Le Bonheur of 1965.

Demy (Varda's husband) made two major films during this period, Lola (1961) and Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964). Set in western French seaports (Nantes and Cherbourg respectively), they refer, in a perhaps deceptively lighthearted way, to the twofold processes of modernisation and decolonisation under way in the France of the time (see Ross, 1995, for a masterly analysis of these). Lola's eponymous heroine, played by Anouk Aimée, oscillates between a French and an American lover before her first love returns (driving a vast American car) to reclaim her at the end. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, for all the frothiness of its entirely sung dialogue (to music by Michel Legrand), actually offers a serious treatment of the effects of modernisation along with those of the Algerian War. Catherine Deneuve, in her first major role, becomes pregnant by the man she loves the night before he leaves for Algeria; on his return he finds her married off to a wealthy local jeweller, in part because her mother does not believe that a garage mechanic would be an acceptable match for her. The irony of this, in the increasingly motorised French society of the time, becomes manifest in the film's final sequence, where we see Michel as the proud owner of a large and gleaming garage.

Bresson, Tati and Melville, all of whom had come to the fore in the war years, produced arguably their finest work during this period. Bresson's Pickpocket (1959) and Au hasard Balthazar (1966) refine his elliptical precision still further; editing here becomes a spiritual quest. Pickpocket's anguished Dostoevskyan hero is never 'analysed' (a term anathema to Bresson) in any detail. His compulsive thieving is observed in tight phenomenological detail, and only in the film's final sequence, where in prison he is visited by Jeanne for whom he realises the depth of his love, does it dawn on him (and the audience) that it has represented his way to redemption. Au hasard Balthazar realises the tour de force of making the tribulations of a donkey (its central 'character') into a spiritual odyssey - Bresson's rejection of the very idea of the actor carried to its furthest extent - while also offering a surprisingly barbed view of modernised France through the presence of the villainous blouson noir Gérard. Tati's only feature of the period, Playtime (1967), is a prodigiously choreographed near-silent comedy, which lost a vast amount of money and all but ended his career. Nowadays, it appears not only as his finest work, extraordinarily intricate in its complexity of visual organisation, but also as a striking préfiguration of the postmodern era in which everywhere looks like everywhere else. The film follows a group of tourists as they journey round a concrete and glass Paris whose iconic landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, are visible only in travel agency posters. Melville's masterpiece Le Samouraï (1967) carries his stylisation of the gangster movie to iconographie lengths, in a pared-down narrative with minimal dialogue sustained largely by the androgynous performance, by turns violent and vulnerable, of Alain Delon.

By the end of our period the New Wave as any kind of unified movement or entity had ceased to exist (some would situate its demise as early as 1963). The film-makers associated with it were pursuing widely divergent paths - from the increasingly politicised experimentation of Godard to the more commercial work of Truffaut or Chabrol - all with significant success. Part at least of the reason for this had to do with the actors and actresses their work brought to the fore. Le Mépris notwithstanding, Brigitte Bardot is not normally associated with the New Wave (her most celebrated role remains Roger Vadim's Et Dieu créa la femme, 1956), but the sexual openness and freedom with which she was for long synonymous struck a chord with the New Wave generation, echoes of which can be traced in Jean Seberg/Patricia in A bout de souffle and the early roles of Catherine Deneuve. Jeanne Moreau has tended to evoke a more sophisticated, upmarket sex appeal, exemplified not only by her roles in Les Amants and Jules et Jim but also by her periodic forays into independent and avant-garde cinema, such as Peter Brook's Duras adaptation Moderato cantabile (1960).

The key icons of masculinity during this period were Delon and Belmondo. The former's 'demonic presence beneath the disguise of an angel' (Passek, 1987: 113) was not to be deployed by a New Wave film-maker until 1990 and Godard's Nouvelle vague, but his work for Melville, René Clément (Plein soleil, 1959) and the Italian directors Visconti and Antonioni made him an international art-house superstar. Belmondo's craggy vulnerability made him the ideal interpreter for the two key Godard roles already referred to. He was to oscillate throughout his career between overtly commercial roles (in which his credibility was vastly enhanced by the fact that he insisted on doing all his own stunts) and appearances for

'respectable' directors including - as well as Godard - Chabrol, Resnais and Truffaut.

In 1968, French cinema, like the society in which it was rooted and which it represented, appeared to be quietly prosperous and securely grounded. Yet a crisis that occurred in February of that year suggested that this impression might not altogether conform to reality. The Paris Cinémathèque, co-founded in 1936 by Georges Franju and Henri Langlois, had during the 30 or more years of its existence become one of the world's leading film archives, where as we have seen the New Wave directors and many others received much of their cinematic education. Langlois's energy and commitment were immensely important in its success, despite his often anarchic curatorial methods. It was these latter that led, in February 1968, to his dismissal by the Culture Minister, André Malraux, in an attempt at increasing already pronounced governmental control over the world of culture, which sparked off a massive wave of protest. The Cinémathèque was effectively closed down by demonstrations until Langlois's reinstatement at the end of April. The 'Langlois affair' now appears as an obvious precursor of the 'events' that were to shake France to the core the following month - events that, as we shall see, were to have a major cultural and political impact in which the cinema would have its part to play.

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