In terms of cinema’s most important film directors, one has to consider those who have had the biggest impact on the industry as a whole, rather than those who may have made the greatest films. Names like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and Akira Kurosawa must be considered in this celebrated group of directors, alongside François Truffaut who helped to transform the landscape of New Wave French cinema.
Together with Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Jacques Demy and Jacques Rivette, Truffaut helped to define a brand new cultural revolution for French filmmaking. A reflective movement shared between this film collective, French New Wave rose to popularity in the late 1950s, with a renewed focus on giving directors full creative control over their work, elevating experimental, improvisational and existential storytelling.
Writing a damning assessment of contemporary French cinema in 1953 named, ‘A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema’, François Truffaut quickly emerged as one of the leading voices of the movement, encouraging a rejection of commercial filmmaking in favour of more adventurous cinema. The filmmaker’s directorial debut, The 400 Blows demonstrated such risk-taking, telling a delicate story about the beauty and difficulties of childhood starring Jean-Pierre Léaud and Albert Rémy.
Whilst many of these filmmakers were most certainly pioneers of their craft, looking inward to their own creative spirit, rather than outward to the influence of western art, this is not to say that the likes of François Truffaut were totally closed off to the industry. In fact, according to the book Herzog on Herzog by author Paul Cronin, Truffaut even once revealed that filmmaker Werner Herzog was “the most important film director alive”.
Rising to prominence in the early 1970s, the career of Werner Herzog aligned with François Truffaut’s success in the industry toward the end of the 20th century. As Herzog was enjoying the releases of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Heart of Glass in the 1970s, François Truffaut too released Day for Night, Pocket Money and The Green Room. As a result, the two filmmakers had a considerable impact on the landscape of 20th-century filmmaking.
With a radical approach to his documentary and feature filmmaking, Herzog often addresses life’s most difficult questions with philosophical resolve and an experimental cinematic style. Starring ambitious protagonists with existential fears or ambitions, it is no surprise that François Truffaut admired the director, after all, both creative pioneers were pursuing the same goal; for cinema to reflect something far more impactful than it currently did.
Take a look at the trailer for Aguirre, the Wrath of God below, starring the great Klaus Kinski who would go on to work with Werner Herzog in the likes of Fitzcarraldo and Nosferatu the Vampyre.