Film 26: Zero de Conduite

Zero du Conduite (1933) dir. Jean Vigo. France.

There is nothing in the history of movies that mirrors or matches the achievement of Jean Vigo. His four films can be watched in an afternoon—total running time: just under three hours. Each film is unique, separate from the others, but together they constitute a sustained attack on complacency and a supreme expression of freedom—freedom of feeling and freedom of seeing, experienced simultaneously.

Vigo’s work is rough-edged, mercurial, and reliably contains a political undercurrent, a barbed awareness of society as an imbalanced and divided system, unjust and absurd. The films were made on small budgets, produced at that threshold in movie history when the use of sound was definably, often awkwardly, new. They can have a rushed or unfinished feel, which makes them seem both vulnerable and age-resistant. They are sophisticated and jagged, playful and incendiary, innocent and savage.

— Michael Almereyda

Abigail:  The scholarship on this film, actually the trio of Jean Vigo films, seems to me much more considered than the actual work of Jean Vigo.  People writing about this movie imbue it with deep significance and artistry that is more easily explained by lack of budget and forethought.  This is a wacky plot, sloppily told in an appalling pace of fits and starts.  The use of children as the cast is interesting, and maybe influential (?) but not particularly well utilized.  Perhaps had he not died early, Jean Vigo would have grown into a formidable artist.  I don’t think it is fair to say he was one in looking at this film.

Forrest:  I hated this movie as much as I hated its direct descendant, “The 400 Blows.”  I recognize that saying such a thing amounts to sacrilege in the film world, but there it is.  Both filmmakers strike me as having a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be a child.  The boys in this movie, as in Truffaut’s, are cruel petty nihilists.  As for the filmmaking itself, it’s disjointed and slapdash.  Most of that I’ve read about the picture point to this as a kind of artistry; I don’t think it is.  I think it’s sloppiness, and I think that had Jean Vigo not died so young this movie would be dismissed as a piece of mildly interesting juvenilia.

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