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The complete films of Jean Vigo


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I know Darren has recently watched his films, and that the much missed Doug C is an admirer; are there any other A&F folks familiar with his work?

I just watched all four of Vigo's films for the first time last week (2 shorts, 2 feature length films), and found much to love.

Zero for Conduct is a fascinating semi-autobiographical work, set in a repugnant provincial boarding school. I can see why Truffaut was such a fan of Vigo: there are notable parallels to the narrative of The 400 Blows, but more significant are the stylistic similarities. In both Vigo and Truffaut, there is a sense of anticipatory surprise and magic at play (the beginning of Truffaut's Day for Night or the sudden Chaplin homage in Zero, for instance). Both also display an ease of seamlessly transitioning between comedy and tragedy - just like real life, they display the thin line between hilarity and tears, affection and disgust.

And Vigo's other feature film, L'Atalante, reminded me of the recent darling around these parts, Certified Copy, as the river journey of the bargeman and his new bride can easily be seen as a metaphor for the life journey of any married couple. Had I seen this a couple of months ago, I would've nominated it for our Pilgrimage Top 20 in a heartbeat.

I also love Vigo's earthiness - mixed in with the magic is a griminess seldom seen in great films: the filthy walls of the boarding school, the slimy hair of the sluglike science teacher, the wet hocker that Papa Jules spews on the barge. Fascinating stuff.

And of course, what a heartbreak that Vigo died of TB at age 29. I'm hard-pressed to think of another young death of a promising director that raises so many 'what if's': perhaps Sadao Yamanaka, also dead at 29, who could've very easily achieved on a level with Mizoguchi.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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And Vigo's other feature film, L'Atalante, reminded me of the recent darling around these parts, Certified Copy, as the river journey of the bargeman and his new bride can easily be seen as a metaphor for the life journey of any married couple. Had I seen this a couple of months ago, I would've nominated it for our Pilgrimage Top 20 in a heartbeat.

This is a great connection. I can still remember the first time I watched L'Atalante, which was quite early on in my marriage. Along with several moments in the film that still make me catch my breath a bit when I see them, I have always felt a kinship to Vigo in his appreciation of the drama of marriage. The "are they/aren't they married" tension that happens in the middle of L'Atlante is almost the same one we get in Certified Copy. Thanks for that link.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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  • 6 months later...

Pilgrimage Top 20?

Congrats on discovering Vigo, Andrew! (And thank you for mentioning Yamanaka, still in need of much wider appreciation.) Vigo is indeed one of the great tragic losses of cinema--his brief life and foray into cinema exerted a profound influence on the New Wave. The lyricism of L'Atalante is overpowering; it's certainly one of the most romantic (but also as you rightly put it, earthy) films I know, almost certainly a direct influence on another favorite, Helmut Kautner's Under the Bridges (amazingly, 1945). L'Atalante is a film I rewatch every couple of years, usually ostensibly to introduce it to a friend who has never seen it.

Edited by Doug C
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I was just reminded, in the spirit of comparisons, of Criterion's recent DVD release of Paul Fejos' masterpiece Lonesome (1928), a beautifully romantic and lyrical Hollywood silent film. If you like L'Atalante (or vice versa)—not to mention Sunrise or The Crowd—it would make a powerful companion piece.

http://www.criterion.com/films/28212-lonesome

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