Jean Vigo (1905
) was a talented, poetic and inspirational French
of the 1920s
. He was born in Paris
, the son of Miguel Almereyda
, a militant anarchist
who died in prison in 1919
. Jean Vigo suffered from tuberculosis
throughout his life, and himself died of septicemia
aged only 29. Although he had to struggle all his life, dogged by censorship
and financial problems as well as ill-health, he has come to be regarded as one of the most important figures in French cinema
His first movie, A propos de Nice (1930) ("About Nice"), a silent short, is a satirical look at the tourists in the French Mediterranean resort of Nice, made in 1929 and released the following year. It has a strongly surreal character with unusual camera angles and surprising juxtapositions, cinematographer Boris Kaufman gaining casual or even voyeuristic shots of his subjects, as the film describes a day in the life of the idle rich holidaying there, contrasted with the poorer everyday inhabitants of the town.
Taris, roi de l'eau (1931) ("Taris, king of the water"), a short film about French swimmer Jean Taris, is his least-known film, and is as much an experimental work as a conventional documentary. It was filmed at the Automobile Club de France swimming pool, and at G.F.F.A. Studios in Paris, and largely consists of stylized images of Taris in the water.
Zéro de Conduite (1933) ("Zero for conduct") is a brilliant short film about rebellious pupils at a boarding school. It was immediately banned by French censors for its subversive message. Vigo had been sent to boarding school following his father's incarceration and death, and it appears that the anarchist spirit of his parents lived on in him. Mixing poetic imagery with a tale of conflict between pupils and teachers, it was highly influential on Lindsay Anderson's film If...
Vigo worked as producer, director, writer and editor on his first three films.
L'Atalante (1934), his only full-length film, is a simple and poetic love story between Juliette (Dita Parlo) and Jean (Jean Dasté) taking place on a canal barge. On its first release, it proved to be a commercial disaster, although since his death it has come to be respected as one of the greatest films ever made in France, an influence on the poetic side of French film-making from Jean Renoir to Francois Truffaut and beyond. The script was by Vigo and Albert Riera, based on a scenario by Jean Guinee; Vigo produced and directed.
There are now a number of excellent books written about Vigo. Julien Temple, director of such films as The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle and Absolute Beginners, made a highly acclaimed documentary Vigo: Passion For Life in 1998.