cinema du look

est. 1980 – 1990s

A visually stunning film movement, Cinema du Look emerged in the 1980s France as a radical departure from the more political and artistically engaged cinema of the French New Wave. Characterized by its emphasis on style, sensuality, and a focus on urban youth culture, Cinema du Look filmmakers brought a fresh and visually captivating approach to the world of cinema.

Origins of Cinema du Look

The origins and influences of Cinema du Look are deeply rooted in the socio-cultural and cinematic landscape of its time. The 1980s marked a significant shift in youth culture with the rise of consumerism and individualism. Young people,  particularly the MTV generation, were increasingly drawn to visual and sensory experiences, including music videos, fashion and advertising. Directors were inspired by the visually compelling nature of music videos, which often employed rapid editing, striking visuals and bold color palettes, directly influencing many of the movement’s films.


Also, influencing the movement were the New Hollywood directors such as Brian De Palma, Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese. Their work can be seen in the movement’s embrace of genre elements, intense visual storytelling and stylized violence.


Cinema du Look represented a departure from the more politically and intellectually oriented French New Wave. While the New Wave was characterized by its focus on social and political commentary, Cinema du Look embraced a more hedonistic and visually driven approach. The rejection of the New Wave’s intellectualism, and emphasis on aesthetics and sensuality marked a clear shift in French cinema.

Mauvais Sang (1986) by Leos Carax
Mauvais Sang (1986) by Leos Carax
Diva (1981) by Jean-Jacques Beineix
Diva (1981) by Jean-Jacques Beineix

Characteristics of Cinema du Look

The movement’s films were characterized by their visual extravagance with vibrant colors and a heightened attention to the visual aspects of storytelling. Cinema du Look directors were unapologetic in their pursuit of creating striking and memorable visual experiences for their audiences. Music played a significant role too, often featuring eclectic soundtracks that contributed to the overall mood and atmosphere.


Many films explored themes of sensuality and romance while love, passion, and physical desire were frequently central to the narratives. The films portrayed intense and often tumultuous relationships, capturing the raw emotions and desires of the characters. The protagonists were typically outsiders, rebels and non-conformists. They challenged societal norms of the time, embracing individualism.


Cinema du Look was closely tied to the urban experience, and its films often revolved around the lives of young people living in the city, mostly Paris. These films portrayed a generation struggling with the complexities of modern urban life, including isolation, alienation and the search for identity. The city itself became a central character, influencing the behavior and choices of the protagonists.

Betty Blue (1986) by Jean-Jacques Beineix
Betty Blue (1986) by Jean-Jacques Beineix

Important filmmakers and films

Pioneering director, Jean-Jacques Beineix, gained recognition with his iconic film “Diva” (1981) which is, arguably, the first film of the movement. It was marked by vivid colors, stylized cinematography, and an exploration of the sensual and romantic aspects of its characters’ lives. Beineix’s subsequent film, “Betty Blue” (1986), further exemplified the movement’s thematic elements and visuals.


Luc Besson is often regarded as one of the foremost figures of Cinema du Look. Films like “Subway” (1985) and “The Big Blue” (1988) epitomize the movement’s aesthetic with their focus on striking visuals, bold colors, and a celebration of youth culture. Besson’s work combined action, romance, and sensuality in a visually extravagant manner, making him a prominent figure in the movement.


Leos Carax brought a poetic and surreal quality to the movement. His film “Mauvais Sang” (1986) was notable for its dreamlike sequences and unconventional narrative structure. Carax’s work often explored themes of love, passion, and the complexities of urban life with a distinct artistic and emotional approach.

Subway (1985) by Luc Besson
Subway (1985) by Luc Besson

Legacy and Influence of Cinema du Look

Cinema du Look left an enduring impact on French cinema and beyond. While the movement was criticized for its style-over-substance approach by some, it undeniably changed the visual language of filmmaking.


Contemporary directors, including (French) New Extremity pioneer Gaspar Noe, Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai and Nicolas Winding Refn, have cited the influence of Cinema du Look in their work, and the movement’s aesthetic legacy continues to resonate in art, fashion and music. In an age where visual storytelling has become increasingly important, Cinema du Look’s commitment to create captivating and visually stunning narratives remains a significant contribution to the world of cinema.

Please refer to the Listed Films for the recommended works associated with the film movement.