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Portrait
Cinema

Jean Vigo

You can’t help but take a side! A film is much more than a work of art. It is a statement, and a statement is a commitment.

With just three shorts and a feature film, Jean Vigo made his mark on the history of French cinema thanks to his poetic, libertarian perspective on the world.

Published on 30/12/2019

2 min

Born in 1905 in Paris, son of anarchist journalist Eugène Bonaventure Vigo, Jean Vigo experienced chaotic school years before taking an interest in cinema.

Suffering from poor health, he spent several periods in a sanatorium in the south of France, then moved to Nice where he started working as a cinema operator.

Jean Vigo did not consider his first short film, À propos de Nice (1930), to be a documentary. In it, he expressed a subjective and clear-cut perspective on the world, which he explains using his concept of the “documented point of view”. This brief commentary on social inequality finds further libertarian echoes in his third short film, Zero for Conduct (“Zéro de conduite") (1933), based on recollections of his traumatic childhood in a boarding school.

Lyrical, inventive and strange with Jean Dasté as an outlandish authority figure, the film, practically an essay advocating rebellion, was banned by censors until 1945. His only feature film, the masterpiece L'Atalante (1934) with Michel Simon and Dita Parlo, was heavily cut by film giant Gaumont during editing: the film was considered insufficiently commercial and the distribution company feared it would be censored. L’Atalante was then renamed Le Chaland qui passe (“The Passing Barge"), and was released in 1934 just before Jean Vigo's death that same year.

A true shooting star of cinema, Jean Vigo is often compared to Arthur Rimbaud due to the brief and striking nature of his oeuvre. He became an explicit point of reference for the New Wave, particularly for François Truffaut and Jacques Rozier, more for his freedom of form than for the social dimension of his works.

 

In 1951, writer Claude Aveline created the Jean Vigo prize, which is awarded each year to French directors, generally young ones, for their “independence of spirit” and “originality of style”.

  • 1929

    1929

    Jean Vigo makes his first short film À propos de Nice.

  • 1931

    1931

    The director releases his second short film, Taris, roi de l’eau.

  • 1933

    1933

    Jean Vigo directs Zéro de conduite, his third short film.

  • 1934

    1934

    Jean Vigo dies of septicaemia in Paris, just after the release of his first feature film, L’Atalante, censored and renamed Le Chaland qui passe by Gaumont.

  • 1951

    1951

    The Jean Vigo Prize is created by writer Claude Aveline to recognise young directors.

The Institut français and the filmmaker

Jean Vigo's Short Zéro de conduite is part of the Great Classics of French Cinema Restored series This series of restored films offers a journey through the history of French cinema as well as through genres and eras, paying tribute to the greatest film-makers from the 1920s to the 1990s. Find out more about the Great Classics of French Cinema Restored series

 

L'institut français, LAB