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The Nouvelle Vague was not socially or politically critical in the fashion of most young cinemas, partly because French censorship remained strong throughout the period. Films treating France's colonial wars (in Indochina until 1954, and Algeria until 1962) were suppressed. After some mayors had banned Vadim's Les Liaisons dangereuses (1960), the Centre National de la Cinématographie strengthened its power over controversial scripts and films. According to a 1961 decree, no film could be shot unless the script was approved by the president of the CNC, and the Ministry of Information had final say over which films could be shown. Politically critical films circulated clandestinely, and police began raiding political meetings and ciné-clubs. As a result of the new policy, films by Resnais (Muriel, 1963) and Godard (Le Petit soldat, 1960) were delayed or banned because of their references to the Algerian war.


The success of Fellini, Bergman, and the other postwar directors discussed in Chapter 19 encouraged the auteur theory that was developing in France, Britain, and America. Similarly, the young or first-time directors of the late 1950s and early 1960s triggered new ways of thinking about cinematic meaning in general and modernist filmmaking in particular.
      The most influential trend in film theory of this period was that of semiology. The ancient study of signs in culture, or "semiotics," was revived in the twentieth century by the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and taken up in Europe in the postwar era. One of the most influential codifications of semiological doctrine was Roland Barthes's book Elements of Semiology (1964). Soon this perspective was applied to film, most notably by Christian Metz. (See Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema, trans. Michael Taylor [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990; originally published 1968].) Italian proponents of semiology include Umberto Eco (notably his La Strutture assente of 1968, revised as A Theory of Semiotics [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976]) and Pier Paolo Pasolini, who proposed the controversial idea that cinema uses nonlinguistic signs to duplicate our perception of everyday reality and psychological states. Pasolini, like Metz and others, felt a special need to explain the innovativeness of the second phase of postwar film modernism. He proposed that the Young Cinema depended heavily on a "free indirect discourse" that combines the author's point of view with that of a character. (See Pasolini, "The Cinema of Poetry," in Louise K. Barnett, ed., Heretical Empiricism [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988], pp. 167–86.) As this line of argument suggests, the new film theory did not immediately seek to overturn the auteur approach to criticism; instead, it often promised to put auteurism on a more rigorous, even scientific basis.

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