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(Jean Bonaventure de Vigo)


Born: Paris, France, 26 April 1905.
Died: Paris, France, 26 October 1934.

Jean Vigo (JPG, 19 KB)

French director, one of the most talented romantic and tragic figures in French cinema. Vigo's father, an anarchist who died in jail in mysterious circumstances in 1917, came from an Andorran family. Jean Vigo was attracted to the avant-garde of the late 1920s. After a brief spell in the Nice studios as an assistant cameraman, he made the iconoclastic short À propos de Nice (1930) with Boris Kaufman (one of Dziga Vertov's brothers) and a documentary on a swimmer, Taris (1931). He directed only two features before his untimely death from tuberculosis, but they remain two of the most beautiful French films ever made. The forty-five minute Zéro de conduite (1934), set in a boy's boarding school, is a powerful indictment of authoritarianism (partly based on Vigo's own school experience). The schoolmasters are portrayed as puppets and the children give the film a raw authenticity and energy, while some scenes, such as the pillow fight, are dreamily poetic. In L'Atalante (1934), an erotic romance set on a barge (starring Michel Simon, Jean Dasté and Dita Parlo), Vigo made one of the key films of the 1930s, his own version of "Poetic Realism" avant la lettre; in the words of John Grierson, "At the base of it is a sense of documentary realism which makes the barge a real barge...but on top of the realism is a crazy Vigo world of symbols and magic." Vigo's films have a peculiar historical standing. Zéro de conduite was immediately banned and L'Atalante was briefly shown in various cut or altered versions, largely to indifferent audiences. But though they had little impact on contemporary audiences, his films were enormously influential on other film-makers, both in terms of his aesthetics and of Vigo's model of an auteur struggling against adversity; they now indelibly colour our vision of 1930s French cinema.

— Ginette Vincendeau, Encyclopedia of European Cinema

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