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Using portable equipment and requiring little or no set up time, the New Wave way of filmmaking presented a documentary style.The films exhibited direct sounds on film stock that required less light.The low-budget approach helped filmmakers get at the essential art form and find what was, to them, a much more comfortable and contemporary form of production.Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, John Ford, and many other forward-thinking film directors were held up in admiration while standard Hollywood films bound by traditional narrative flow were strongly criticized.Cahiers co-founder and theorist André Bazin was a prominent source of influence for the movement.By means of criticism and editorialization, they laid the groundwork for a set of concepts, revolutionary at the time, which the American film critic Andrew Sarris called auteur theory.Truffaut, with The 400 Blows (1959) and Godard, with Breathless (1960) had unexpected international successes, both critical and financial, that turned the world's attention to the activities of the New Wave and enabled the movement to flourish.

Also, these movies featured existential themes, such as stressing the individual and the acceptance of the absurdity of human existence.

The socio-economic forces at play shortly after World War II strongly influenced the movement.

Politically and financially drained, France tended to fall back on the old popular pre-war traditions.

French New Wave is influenced by Italian Neorealism In a 1961 interview, Truffaut said that "the 'New Wave' is neither a movement, nor a school, nor a group, it's a quality" and in December 1962 published a list of 162 film directors who had made their feature film debut since 1959.

Many of these directors, such as Edmond Agabra and Henri Zaphiratos, were not as successful or enduring at the well-known members of the New Wave and today would not be considered part of it.