Electrifying the silver screen in the '50's and '60's, New Wave cinema was a movement spearheaded by a group of French cinephiles, writers and critics, catapulting a bevy of French actresses from obscurity to household names.

Often charting the tumultuous romance and hedonistic affairs of giddy lovers, New Wave cinema presented an exciting new mode of artistic filmmaking which was hyper-real, grainy and spontaneous.

Rather than holding your hand through a series of contrived interactions like Hollywood blockbusters of the era, New Wave directors gave more credit to the emotional intelligence of the audience. The aim was to express rather than impress, exposing the flawed and vulnerable nature of human relationships and prompting viewers to feel the emotional ripples of the characters in the context of their own lives

Some argue that the male-heavy cohort of New Wave cinema directors portrayed women as hotted-up sex kittens. While it's certainly true these films celebrated the sexual allure of women, they also forged new representations of femininity through more holistic and nuanced female characters who were feisty, intellectual, sexually empowered, uncompromising and embodied a devil-may-care attitude - much like the women who played them.

Read on to discover pearls of wisdom from five leading ladies of the New Wave, and soak up some of that enviable nonchalance that defines the French attitude to life and love.

Brigitte Bardot

Babes of the new wave: What we can learn from ‘60s screen sirens

The undisputed pin-up girl and sex symbol of French cinema, Bardot's prolific ouvre includes the likes of And God Created Woman, La Parisienne and Viva Maria! Now 82, the devout animal rights activist and feminist is based in St Tropez.

On love
"When I love, I do it without counting. I give myself entirely. And each time, it is the grand love of my life."

On sex
"If only every man who sees my films did not get the impression he can make love to me, I'd be a lot happier."

On marriage
"I am against marriage, and I don't give a fig for society."

On monogamy
"It's better to be unfaithful than to be faithful without wanting to be."

On ageing
"What could be more beautiful than a dear old lady growing wise with age? Every age can be enchanting, providing you live within it."

On being a free spirit
"My wild and free side unsettled some and unwedged others."

On fashion
"Fashion may not be a weapon of the woman, but at least it gives her ammunition."

On attitude
"I'm shocking, impertinent, insolent. That's how it is."


Catherine Devenue

Babes of the new wave: What we can learn from ‘60s screen sirens

A blonde bombshell with an air of mystery, Catherine Deneuve has been a point of fascination for the cinema, fashion and photography worlds since featuring in Vice and Virtue in 1962, and subsequent films such as Beauty of the Day and Repulsion

On femininity
"A women has to be intelligent, have charm, a sense of humour, and be kind. It's the same qualities I require from a man."

On love
"Love is suffering, one side always loves more."

On marriage
"Marriage is obsolete and a trap. I don't see any reason for marriage when there is divorce."

On work
"Acting is working with people who invite you into their dreams and trust you with their innermost being."

On feminism
"There are very few role models for young people. We are in a society that is ruled by men."

On herself
"I get irritated, nervous, very tense or stressed but never bored."

Jane Birkin

Babes of the new wave: What we can learn from ‘60s screen sirens

British born Jane Birkin was adopted into the hearts and minds of the French after her relationship and musical partnership with Serge Gainsbourg. Her 'It Girl' status was solidified when the French fashion house Hermes named their coveted 'Birkin bag' after her. She starred in Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman (as Brigittte Bardot's lover), La Piscine and Blow-Up, among others.

On love

"I know what it's like to have someone coming home who looks at you not in the way they used to in the old days, and I've seen my own face contorted with sadness and rage in the mirror."

On solitude
"My mother was right: When you've got nothing left, all you can do is get into silk underwear and start reading Proust."

On beauty

"I feel most comfortable in an old pair of jeans, Converse, and a man's jersey. My best friend cuts my hair with kitchen scissors." 

On the French

"I think there is an extreme charm in the French, and actually it's their bolshiness that makes them such fun."

On ageing

"I don't like getting older, but there's nothing I can do. Hitting 60 wasn't great, but I think I was lucky in not being that beautiful; it can be really cruel on people who have been stunning."

On life

"Who wants an easy life anyway, that's boring."

Jeanne Moreau

Babes of the new wave: What we can learn from ‘60s screen sirens

Now 88, Parisienne born actress Jeanne Moreau was known for her moody, sultry, acerbic on-screen persona.  Her most notable films include Jules et Jim, The Lovers and Beyond the Clouds.

On co-habitation
"I think more and more people want to live alone. You can be a couple without being in each other's pockets. I don't see why you have to share the same bathroom."

On image
"If you get trapped in the idea that what is most important is what image of yourself you're giving to the world, you're on a dangerous path."

On cinema
"Although for some people cinema means something superficial and glamorous, it is something else. I think it is the mirror of the world."

On nostalgia
"Nostalgia is when you want things to stay the same. I know so many people staying in the same place. Life is a myriad of territories to discover, I don't want to waste time with what I already know."

On life
"As long as you don't make waves, ripples, life seems easy. But that's condemning yourself to impotence and death before you are dead. If you want to live your life to end, you have to live dangerously."

On ageing
"Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age."

Anouk Aimee

Babes of the new wave: What we can learn from ‘60s screen sirens

An icon of cool, sophisticated beauty, Anouk Aimee starred in more than 76 films in her lifetime, most notably Lola, La Dolce Vita and A Man and a Woman.


On desire
"It's so much better to desire than to have"

On beauty
"You can only perceive real beauty in a person as they get older."

On marriage
"Some pray to marry the man they love, my prayer will somewhat vary: I humbly pray to heaven above that I love the man I marry."

Babes of the new wave: What we can learn from ‘60s screen sirens