The Direct Cinema Tradition

The ending of the Canadian Cooperation Project coincided with the international triumph of the French New Wave.

Using techniques and equipment originally developed for documentary filmmaking, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and their colleagues showed a cheerful disregard for the rules of classical cinema and Hollywood production values.

The young French filmmakers had paved the way for their own films by their work as film critics.

Nobody Waved Goodbye (1964)

The French New Wave had the advantage of belonging to an established national cinema and quickly achieved international recognition, but the Canadian filmmakers were faced with the task of creating a national cinema virtually from scratch, at least as far as fiction films were concerned.

Examples of direct cinema movies include Nobody Waved Good-bye (1964) and Le Chat dans le sac, considered the founding films of a Canadian tradition of direct cinema fiction films, and critics have been divided over the implications of their similarities and differences.

  1. In Nobody Waved Good-bye, Peter is just finishing highschool and engages in a self- destructive rebellion against the materialistic values that his parents try to impose on him.
  2. In Le Chat dans le sac, Claude is trying to establish himself as a journalist and is more aware of the political context of his rebellion, reflecting the shift from a French-Canadian to a more confident Quebecois identity associated with the Quiet Revolution. Yet even Claude is unable to translate this awareness into meaningful action, and declares, “I am Quebecois; therefore I am searching.”

Le chat dans le sac (1964)

The personal identity crisis of the male adolescent in all of these films can be seen as a metaphor for a country seeking to find terms on which it can develop a truly independent national identity.

It's tough to formulate a direct cinema definition, but it's largely filmed on location and with great deal of improvisation on the part of actors and crew, the direct cinema films tended to rely on long takes and jump cuts, making no attempt to emulate the production values and smooth continuity of Hollywood cinema. Their loose narrative structures, fragmentary presentation, and handheld shots reflected the uncertainty and insecurity of their protagonists. They preferred open, and often downbeat, endings to the closed and happy endings of most Hollywood films.

Direct cinema filmmakers argued that a national cinema must be rooted in the reality of the nation and, in Canada’s case at least, the reality of the various regions that make up the nation. Only films with a distinct cultural identity can deal with issues in ways that will allow audiences to relate them to their own cultural environment.

The focus of young men who are unable or unwilling to assume the responsibilities of adult life led critic Robert Fothergill to write an article in which he argued that Canadian cinema was populated by cowards, bullies, and clowns. He attributed this crisis in masculine identity to the pressures of trying to live up to the potent images of American popular culture.

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