The Auteur Theory : French New Wave


Art Cinema and the Idea of Authorship

One of the most influential idea is the belief that the director is most centrally responsible for a film’s form, style and meanings.

  • Since 1940s, French filmmakers argued who could be considered the author or auteur


  • Critics Andre Bazin and Roger Leenhart argued that the director was the main source of a film’s value.


  • Alexandre Astruc 1948 essay on the la camera-stylo (the camera pen) wrote about how artists writes with the camera as a writer writes with his pen.


  • The modern cinema would be a personal one and technology, crew and cast are instruments in the artist’s creative process.

Famous Exponents: Cashiers du Cinema Magazine (Cinema Note Books)

  • In 1951, Andre Bazin was the centric critic along with future French filmmakers Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Goddard, and Francois Truffaut began pushing the idea of the auteur theory.
  • Truffaut attacked Traditional French Cinema as lacking originality and relied on literary classics. The director of these films are considered “metteur en scene” a stager.


  • He praised Jean Renoir, Bresson and others who wrote their own stories.


  • Screenwriting was central to the auteur theory. It was the control of story and dialogue that was crucial.


  • However others in the magazine wrote that certain Hollywood directors can be considered as well because they hide and operate inside the system.


What does it mean “To be an Auteur?”

  • If for example, Ingmar Bergman is considered to be an auteur. So what?


  • Critics argued that we can examine the film as if it were a piece of pure creation and can be understood as an expression of the filmmakers view of life. It also allows us to look at common elements across his films. Recurrent themes, characters, images and plot situation gives films a rich unity.


  • Jean Renoir once said that an auteur only makes one films and keeps remaking the same film.


  • It helped to develop a study of film style and history. If a filmmaker was an artist like a writer or painter, that artistry was revealed in not what was said but how it was said. The filmmakers is a master of the cinema and is innovative through the use of camera work, lighting, and editing.


  • Some detrimental aspects of this idea of a ‘Great Men’ theory neglects the fact that films are always made in a team; from actors, producers, production designers, editors to sound designers, cinematographers to screenwriters.


  • Another detrimental aspect is to ignore how this theory is also a ‘Marketing Tool’ to separate lesser commercial successful films from mainstream commercial films by focusing more on the supposedly ‘artistic’ elements.


  • During the 60s & 70s, auteurism helped create film studies in schools and was central to film festivals in promoting certain filmmakers.

Case Study: French New Wave (60s)

  • The French New Wave Directors (Post War) were excited to experiment and break away from tradition. Youth Culture developed. “Teenagers”


  • For the first time, these filmmakers became aware of film history or culture and began to reference them in their films.


  • They were to be bold in their use of camera work, acting and storytelling.



  • Free and loose in style like documentary. They adopted Neorealism in the use of non-actors, real locations and improvised performance.


  • They combine objective realism with subjective realism together with auteur theory.


  • Reflexive, was one of their major techniques.

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