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The Complete Jean Vigo|
cast: Michel Simon, Dita Parlo, Jean Dasté, and Jean Taris
director: Jean Vigo
158 minutes (PG) 1930-4
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Jean Vigo was born in 1905 and didn't live to see his 30th birthday. His complete works
comprise two shorts; one mid-length film and one feature, and are all included on this
two-disc set. Yet his influence has been enormous, not least on the French New Wave
a quarter of a century after his death.
As with any artist who dies young, speculation as to what he might have achieved if
he had survived is fascinating but ultimately pointless. But what Vigo did achieve in
his short filmmaking career, despite lack of funding, often primitive technology (this
was less than a decade after sound had been introduced), is a compelling mix of lyricism,
sometimes bordering on surrealism, anarchic humour, and - especially in L'Atalante
- an aching romanticism. You have to acknowledge the input of his regular cameraman
Boris Kaufman (brother of Russian documentarian Dziga Vertov) who went on to a distinguished
career in Hollywood, winning an Oscar for On The Waterfront; also a nod to the
leading actors of L'Atalante. But these are ultimately films you have to credit
to their director. And in 1934 he was dead, aged 29, of tuberculosis.
Vigo's films work primarily on a visual level (A Propos de Nice is silent with
a music track and the sound recording on the other three films is decidedly primitive).
It hasn't always been possible to see the film as it should be seen, due to censorship,
re-editing by producers and nth generation poor prints. But the films have all been
restored, and short of a big screen showing this DVD is the way to see them.
Disc one contains Vigo's four films - A Propos de Nice (22 minutes) is a rapidly
cut montage of the fashionable tourists, the cafes, and the seafront but also the poorer
parts of the city of Nice. One sequence, a series of dissolves taking a fully clothed
woman in a deckchair and removing her clothes so that she becomes topless, was famously
cut by the BBFC in the 1930s - at least on 35mm prints. 16mm prints, shown in film
societies, were not then subject to censorship so retained the sequence in its entirety.
Also on the disc is the 28-minute original cut of the film.
La Natation par Jean Taris (nine minutes) is a short documentary as the celebrated
French swimming champion gives an impromptu lesson. The film, in Vigo's hands, becomes
an excuse for camera trickery such as slow and fast motion and an experiment in filming
underwater. (In an interesting film link, Taris competed in the 1932 Olympics but came
second - to Larry 'Buster' Crabbe, later to become a film star himself, in the Flash
Gordon serials.) Zéro de conduite (42 minutes) is an anarchically
humorous film showing life at a French boarding school, where the headmaster is a dwarf.
Vigo here takes his revenge on his own schooling and shows how the boys rebel against
the school authorities. The film was banned in its day, but its visual language and
wit have been highly influential, most notably on Lindsay Anderson's If... (Anderson
was a huge admirer of Vigo, and is quoted on the DVD box cover.)
Finally, we have Vigo's only feature, L'Atalante (85 minutes), originated in
a script given to the young director by the studio. At heart it's a simple love story:
Juliette (Dita Parlo) marries Jean (Jean Dasté), the skipper of a barge called
L'Atalante. Also on the barge are the eccentric first mate, Pè�re Jules (Michel
Simon), a cabin boy, and lots of cats. But Juliette and Jules' love is tested when,
in Paris, a flashy salesman hits upon Juliette. The film is a compelling mix of humour
and a startling visual language, which mixes location-shot realism with flights of
fancy, such as a scene of Jean licking a large block of ice. It's also a very moving
All films are shown in their original 1.33:1 ratios, with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtracks.
English subtitles are optional. The films inevitably show the results of wear and tear,
scratches and spots, but these have been kept to a minimum and for films over 70 years
old they look remarkably good. The sound has been restored as well, reducing noise and
hiss. They will never be state of the art tracks, but they are quite clear. Some of
Michel Simon's mumbling is meant to be unclear, so that's not the fault of the restorers.
Disc two comprises several extras: Filmmakers Of Our Time: Jean Vigo, a 94-minute
TV documentary from 1964 made by French television, interviewing many people who worked
with Vigo and remember him. The Voyages Of L'Atalante (38 minutes) is an examination
of the various versions of the film over the years, including a studio cut which went
out under the title Le Chaland qui passe. From L'Atalante To L'Atalante
is a nine-minute introduction to the release of the restored version in 1990. Sound
Regained (10-minutes) shows us detail of the restoration of the soundtrack, using
the latest computer equipment. There's also a 19-minute interview with Georgian-born,
French-based director Otar Iosseliani, talking about his first viewing of L'Atalante
and how it inspired him to become a film director, three minutes from Gaumont newsreels
showing Jean Taris in action, a poster gallery, a stills gallery and a Vigo biography.