Vague Visages Writers’ Room: Favorite New Wave Films

In the Vague Visages Writers’ Room on Slack, freelancers were asked to comment about their favorite new wave films from any international movement.

Kate Blair (Selective_Kate), The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun documents the tumultuous life of its titular character from the end of World War II into the post-war years. As its title implies, this is a film about a marriage, but — from the opening frames — one can see that marriage is doomed. Maria and Hermann’s wedding ceremony is interrupted by an air raid, and the guests flee, leaving the bride and groom cowering on the ground as they sign the paperwork. Like many films in the New German Cinema, the film grapples directly with the country’s dark 20th-century history, and the ill-fated marriage operates as a potent metaphor for the country’s deep wounds. The ever-luminous Hanna Schygulla plays Braun, a woman who does what she needs to do to survive in an inhospitable landscape without a man to support her. Like many of Fassbinder’s films, this one borrows from the structures of Hollywood women’s films, utilizing the sumptuous colors of Sirkian melodrama and echoing the tragic arc of films like Mildred Pierce. Maria’s stoic veneer hides a deep and growing sorrow. Through the film, she is fuelled and guided by her love for her Hermann, who floats in an out of her life like a ghost: first lost at war, then imprisoned. She becomes hopelessly fragmented as she hardens to the outside world, and the small flame of her love grows frailer inside her. The film is a harrowing portrait of Germany’s history and collective memory, but also documents the singular tragedy of two people separated by circumstances that are ultimately insurmountable.

Kimberly Pierce (@kpierce624), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

Picking a favorite among the many strong films made during the post-WWII new wave of British cinema is a difficult task. When considering the handful of insightful and challenging movies which emerged during this period, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning stands out as a cornerstone of the movement. The movie features screen legend Albert Finney in his breakout role. While the character of Arthur is challenging and problematic, Finney and director Karel Reisz work together to craft a powerful example of British cinema’s “Angry Young Man.” Furthermore, the film crafts a searing critique of not only British class structure, but also the rigid gender roles of the period. As such, the characters of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (as well as the British New Wave in general) are deeply representative of not only their generation, but British cinema as a whole.

Walter Neto (@wfcneto), Eros + Massacre (1969)

In the aftermath of World War II, nationalism and thoughts of race supremacy left the world in unimaginable chaos. And it was in this time of change and social unrest that Japanese filmmakers started to question art and its place inside a bourgeois society. They began to question film studios that didn’t approach themes such as prostitution, homosexuality, youth culture, communism, violence, the women’s place in society and so on. This was the beginning of what would be called the Japanese New Wave (Nūberu bāgu), and Yoshishige Yoshida quickly became one of the most important names of this movement. His 1969 film Eros + Massacre is a classic of Japanese cinema.

The film tells two stories: the first one is a biopic of the notorious anarchist Sakae Ōsugi, and the second examines students researching about anarchism and other political ideas. Tradition and modernity clash, and Yoshida uses the human body and time to emphasize societal instability. The body is filmed without any taboo because it carries the marks of daily violence, and time is how one can perceive change itself: nothing it is set in stone and everything follows a chronological order since everything has a beginning, middle and end. Thus, everything could and should be questioned. Eros + Massacre isn’t an easy ride at more than three hours long, but it’s quite the experience and undoubtedly a relevant new wave film.

Alasdair Bayman (@alasdairbayman), Ossessione (1943)

Long before Luchino Visconti released decadent films like Senso (1954) and Death in Venice (1971), the Italian icon of luxurious elegance operated more practically. His first feature film Ossessione (1943) created a foundation for the cinematic and narrative language of the Italian Neorealist movement, later benefitted by Vittoria De Sica’s seminal Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Federico Fellini’s La Strada (1954). With its profound and impactful illustrations of human love, hatred and guilt, the film deserves to be remembered as one of Visconti’s most vivid films.

Bullish, dashing and alone on the road, Massimo Girotti’s Gino drifts through rural Italy in search of little jobs to sustain a fragile existence. At a small roadhouse, he is greeted by the graceful Giovanna (Clara Calamai). Instantly striking a connection, the two begin an affair. The central romance naturally drives the narrative, and the austere ambience created by Visconti feels fully realised, without any clichés or theatricality. Ossessione shows the director finding his voice in a world shifting under perilous social change, away from the menacing grasps of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime. In the face of adversity, art may help clarify one’s thoughts on human compassion and love. Based on this concept alone, Ossessione is a pillar of the Italian Neorealist movement, and a piece of filmmaking to be cherished.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough), Mean Streets (1973)

During college, Martin Scorsese broadened my horizons with his 1999 documentary My Voyage to Italy. After learning about Italian Neorealism, I studied other cinematic movements and began thinking more outside the box. During this time in my life, I often watched Scorsese’s 1973 film Mean Streets, an American New Wave production that incorporates various aesthetics which ultimately inspired Vague Visages: film noir grit, La Nouvelle Vague ideals and strong visual contrasts ala Caravaggio, whether it’s the chiaroscuro lighting or the character framing. Whenever I return to Mean Streets, I’ll usually double-down with another New Wave film, probably something from Roberto Rossellini or François Truffaut.