This article highlights the significance of Jean Rouch’s experimental ethnographic film Moi, un Noir (1958) in the genesis of the quintessential New Wave film, À bout de souffle (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960), taking seriously the idea expressed by several critics of the time that À bout de souffle was an ethnography of French youth. Following a close reading of Moi, un Noir and comparative readings of Moi, un Noir, À bout de souffle, and their French reception, the author briefly highlights Rouch’s influence on the other key film of the New Wave, Les 400 coups (François Truffaut, 1959). Rouch’s influence on the two emblematic films of the New Wave is particularly significant in light of his own turn, after years filming in France’s sub-Saharan African colonies, to making several films in metropolitan France. The central aim of this article is to elucidate the role of Rouch in the New Wave. An ancillary aim is to show that Moi, un Noir and À bout de souffle mark two key points in a striking shift in the cutting-edge French cinema of the late 1950s and 1960s: a growing inclination to survey urban, metropolitan France as a suddenly exotic space, and to conceive of French urbanites as viable ethnographic subjects.
“Moi, un Blanc: de la genèse d’À bout de souffle,” Dans le sillage de Jean Rouch, ed. by Rina Sherman (Paris: Éditions de la Maison sciences de l’homme, 2018), 209-224.