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Zero for Conduct

Jean Vigo (1905-1934).

French anarchist film writer/director (& son of the anarchist Eugene Vigo - aka Miguel Almereyda). Daily Bleed Saint. Born April 26, 1905, Paris; died October 5, 1934, Paris.

"Of all cinema’s illustrious martyr figures, none is more romantic than Jean Vigo, poet maudit of ‘30s French cinema, dead at 29 after a long struggle with tuberculosis, leaving a filmography that can be screened in just over three hours and which, during his lifetime, showed every sign of vanishing into oblivion. But the ethereal beauty and earthy anarchism that permeate his two masterpieces Zero de conduite (1933) and L’Atalante (1934) are still enveloping audiences in their hypnotic atmosphere today and leaving them sure in the knowledge that Vigo was more than a filmmaker – he was a moment in film history that will never be repeated."

— Maximilian Le Cain

Jean Vigo led a poor & wretched childhood, made particularly difficult with his fathers frequent stays in prison because of his activism.

Vigo's father died under "mysterious" circumstances in his cell, in 1917, which provoked some political scandal.

He was born to Miguel Almereyda (alias Eugene Bonaventure de Vigo), a militant anarchist, & Emily Clero, another young militant, on April 26, 1906 at rue Polonceau in Paris in an attic full of cats. He was nicknamed Nono, after the hero of Jean Grave's children's stories. His father died somewhat mysteriously in a Fresnes prison on 13 August 1917.

Jean Vigo was only 12 years old & already afflicted with the tuberculosis which would take his short life. Fortunately his meeting with Lydou, daughter of a Polish industrialist, allowed him to begin his short career as a committed film writer & maker.

In 1930 Vigo's first film was released: A propos de Nice, a virulent social satire. In 1933, Vigo released his most famous film, Zero De Conduite (Zero for Conduct) — which was immediately banned & censored for "praise of indiscipline & attacking the prestige of the teaching profession". Another film Evadé du bagne, recalling the life of Eugene Dieudonné, remained an unfinished project, but in 1934 he produced L'Atalante. But, under commercial pretexts & by fear of the censors, the film did not appear in its original form.

Jean Vigo was a member of the Association of Revolutionary Writers & Artists from 1932, & was involved with the libertarians (particularly Jeanne Humbert, who was his "godmother").

Jean Vigo died of tuberculosis, October 5, 1934, at 29 years old.

Zéro de conduite (1933): With this film, legendary filmmaker Jean Vigo's lyrical genius reinvents schoolyard rebellion as all-purpose, anti-authoritarian anthem. Essential radical viewing in any year. Released in France Feb. 15, 1946, after being banned since 1933.

Needless to say, Vigo’s film of rebellion in a boarding school was too much for the authorities at the time. After its first showing in 1933 there was an immediate outcry & fears that it might result in civil unrest caused the film to be banned. The ban remained in force until 1945, after which Zéro de conduitefinally received the appraisal & status it merited. It is now regarded as one of the most significant films in the history of cinema.

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1930 - A Propos de Nice (court métrage)
1931 - Taris ou la natation (court métrage)
1932 - Zéro de conduite (court métrage)
1933 - L'Atalante

Select Bibliography

Bourgeois, Nathalie; Benoliel Bernard; and de Loppinot, Stéfani, eds. L'Atalante: un film de Jean Vigo. Cinémathèque française, 2000.

Buache, Freddy, ed., Jean Vigo. Documents de Cinema 4. Lausanne: Cinémathèque Suisse, 1962.

Corrado, Terzi, Jean Vigo. with collaboration of Circolo del Cinema "La Cittadella," by Bergamo, edited by Federazione Italiana dei Circoli del Cinema, Rome, 1952.

Esteve, Michel, ed., "Jean Vigo." Etudes Cinématographiques, Nos. 51-52. Paris: Editions Minard, 1966.

Feldman, Joseph and Feldman, Harry, "Jean Vigo." New Index Series, No. 4. London: British Film Institute, 1951.

Gomes Salles, Paulo Emilio, Jean Vigo. Faber and Faber, London, 1998.

Grande, Maurizo. Vigo - Jean Vigo. Il Castoro Cinema . La Nuova Italia, Firenze, April 1979.

Lherminier, Pierre, Jean Vigo. Cinema d'Aujourd'hui 50. Paris: Editions Seghers, 1967.

Manvell, Roger; and Baxter, Neilson, The Cinema 1951. Harmondsworth: Penquin Books, 1951.

Rosier, Michel; and Salmon, Michel, Cinekinomovies n. 1, Paris, 1966.

Simon, William G., The Films of Jean Vigo. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1981.

Smith, John M., Jean Vigo. New York: Praeger Publishers Inc., 1972.

Voglino, Bruno, "Jean Vigo." Centrofilm n. 18-19, Torino, 1961.

Web Resources     Compiled by Michelle Carey

Jean Vigo Website
Nicely integrated site featuring biography, bibliography, filmography and reviews. The original page is no longer online, but a copy has been saved at the Stan Iverson Archives

Cité Scolaire Jean Vigo – Millau
Informative site about the school Vigo attended and how it informed his work.

Jean Vigo – Une Galèrie de Cinéastes [Le Cinéma autour du monde]
French page with some wonderful poster reproductions.

Essay by Claudia Corbman.

Institut Jean Vigo
Official website of this organisation dedicated to the study of the history of cinema. Whilst not primarily concerned with Vigo, it does features some nice pictures and some brief information on him.

Zero de conduite
A study guide for this film, courtesy of Webster University, St Louis. USA.

Review by Derek Malcolm.

L’Intégrale de Jean Vigo
New DVD box set of the four Vigo films.

The Films of Jean Vigo from the New York Film Annex/
This video resource site has L’Atalante and Zero de conduite videos for sale.

Life in a French boarding school, where the authorities attempt to regiment the students — unsuccessfully. The kids are all wonderfully spontaneous; one of the best films ever about children among children. The inspiration for If…. Written by the director.

— Leonard Maltin

"He used everything around him: the sun, the moon, snow, night. Instead of fighting unfavorable conditions, he made them play a part." (Boris Kaufman)

"Vigo was buried a few hours before the premiere of L'Atalante; it is an imperishable tribute to his talent." (Peter Cowie)

"These landscapes of water, trees, little houses on peaceful banks, and boats slowly threading their way ahead of a silver wake: the same impeccable composition, the same power invisibly present because so much a master of itself, the same balance of all the elements of a visual drama in the tender embrace of complete acceptance, the same pearly, golden veil translucently masking the sharpness of composition and the firmness of line. And perhaps it was this simplicity of compostion, entirely devoid of flourishes or decorations - classical, in a word - that made me appreciate all the more the pleasure of savoring the very spirit of Vigo's work, almost violent, certainly tormented, feverish, brimming with ideas and truculent fantasy, with virulent, even demonic, and yet constantly human romanticism." (Elie Faure)

"His overflowing imagination permitted him to improvise with astonishing facility. It wasn't the words that inspired him, but faces, objects, landscapes." (Albert Riera)

"The original script (the work of an unknown writing under a pseudonym) was commissioned to Vigo. He adapted it freely and turned it into his masterpiece, in which realism is united with surrealistic poetry to create a violent and powerful lyricism. Michel Simon's Pere Jules is certainly one of the great creations of cinema." (Georges Sadoul)

Page updated April 2003, August 2003, June 2004, October 2005

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