Jean Vigo (1905 – 1934)

An innovator of the film language and a truly rebellious author who shows us the scope of the cinema as a medium constantly looks for new forms of expression and invites a spectator to participate in a game.

Jean Vigo made just several films (he died at the age of 29) but, despite this, he is a significant figure in film history. He was a source of inspiration to many directors including those of the French New Wave. In a conversation with Éric Rohmer, Francois Truffaut spoke of the indelible impression which Vigo’s films made on him and the influence which they had on his works.

Most of Jean Vigo’s films are short. One of his famous short films is Zero for Conduct (Zéro de conduite, 1933). This film is an illustration of the impulse of freedom and rebellious spirit in cinematography. Rebellious children who refuse to obey rules, injustice and oppression confront adults noisily ending their rebellion with a solemn march. Vigo finds an interesting form to depict children’s world, their protest, friendship, sincerity and, most importantly, their playful nature. He also constantly invents new tricks and methods to convey their mood.

Jean Vigo also made a short film about the city of Nice and swimmer Jean Taris (A Propos de Nice 1930; Taris 1931) in which he created his own style. In A Propos de Nice, Vigo creates a live portrait of a specific place showing the reality at the time, everyday life and its rhythm (using technical methods and his sense of humour). In Jean Taris, however, Vigo tries to study the movement of the swimmer’s body using a film camera. He showcases underwater choreography which he later uses in his feature film (L’Atalante, 1934). Here we can observe the details and the film language which Vigo had perfected in his short films. All his films were shot by Boris Kaufman, brother of a famous film director Dziga Vertov. Kaufman later worked with Sidney Lumet, Elia Kazan and others. Kaufman and Vigo created an unforgettable aesthetics and the vision of the director’s films.