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The cinema of the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) brought, as one of its perceived radical innovations, an emphasis on improvisation at the levels both of acting and of filmmaking itself. Improvisation was one means by which this cinema differentiated itself from an earlier tradition of French filmmaking that was marked by a reliance on scripts and a polished, professional practice of making films. Embraced for its freshness, this turn to improvisatory filmmaking nevertheless raised a set of social, political, and aesthetic issues that inflected the reception of the Nouvelle Vague. A turn to improvisation was seen as a rejection of the professional craft tradition of the French film industry and its unions. It was received, in critical quarters, as a filmmaking practice marked by “in jokes” and the representation of intimate relationships between improvising performers from which audiences were excluded. The fractured responses to these aspects of the Nouvelle Vague’s improvisatory tendencies were symptoms of the complex political and generational divisions that were running through French society in the early 1960s.

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