I wrote about Jean Vigo’s masterpiece Zero for Conduct for Cine-file Chicago. It opens in a new 4K restoration at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago today.
Jean Vigo’s ZERO FOR CONDUCT (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 4pm, Saturday, 5:45pm, and Wednesday, 7:45pm
ZERO FOR CONDUCT (1933), Jean Vigo’s penultimate movie, is a 49-minute featurette that packs a greater punch than most films twice its length. A remarkable tribute to the anarchic spirit of youth, it is perhaps best known today for the major influence it would go on to exert on both the French and British New Waves several decades later (François Truffaut’s THE 400 BLOWS would be unthinkable without it and Lindsay Anderson’s IF… is an unofficial remake), but make no mistake: there’s no substitute for the original. Vigo’s poetic rendering of the rebellion of four pre-adolescent boarding school students is so incendiary as an anti-authoritarian statement that it was banned in France until the end of World War II. There are unforgettable, occasionally surreal images—from the school’s principal, a dwarf, who keeps his prized bowler hat under a glass dome to the slow-motion shots in the celebrated pillow-fight sequence—but, as in Vigo’s more well-known L’ATALANTE made one year later, ZERO FOR CONDUCT’s aesthetic daring never overshadows the emotional sensitivity the director shows his protagonists. This is fitting given that, according to biographer Paolo Emilio Salles Gomes, the film was based on Vigo’s own childhood memories. Preceding ZERO FOR CONDUCT are Vigo’s shorts A PROPOS DE NICE (1930) and TARIS (1931). The former is a “city symphony”-style travelogue of the title location marked by astonishing stylistic flourishes (the low-angled shots of bare-legged women dancing on a balcony are particularly memorable for their eroticism) while the latter is a short experimental documentary about a champion swimmer that allowed Vigo to try out the underwater cinematography he would take to dizzying heights in L’ATALANTE. (1930-33, 83 min total, DCP Digital) MGS