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The Complete Jean Vigo – The Criterion Collection #578 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 15, 2011 by  



If you love Jean Vigo’s works, just know that “The Complete Jean Vigo” is magnificent.  Once again, the Criterion Collection has released a 5-star Blu-ray release that is a must-buy and must own!  Highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © Gaumont. 2011 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Complete Jean Vigo – The Criterion Collection #578

MOVIE RELEASE: A Propos De Nice (193o), Taris (1931), Zero De Conduite (1933) and L’Atalante (1934)

DURATION: A Propos De Nice (23 Minutes), Taris (9 Minutes), Zero De Conduite (44 Minutes) and L’Atalante (87 Minutes)

DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, 1:19:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural in French with Optional English Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection

RELEASE DATE: August 30, 2011

À propos de Nice

Directed by Jean Vigo

Cinematography by Boris Kaufman

Taris

Directed by Jean Vigo

Cinematography by Boris Kaufman

Zero de Conduite

Writtena and Directed by Jean Vigo

Produced by Jean Vigo

Executive Producer: Jacques-Louis Nounez

Music by Maurice Jaubert

Cinematography by Boris Kaufman

L’Atalante

Directed by Jean Vigo

Scenario by Jean Guinee

Adaptation and Dialogue by Albert Riera, Jean Vigo

Produced by Jacques-Louis Nounez

Music by Maurice Jaubert

Cinematography by Louis Berger, Boris Kaufman

Edited by Louis Chavance

Art Direction by Francis Jourdain

Starring:

Taris

Jean Taris as himself

Zero de Conduite

Jean Daste as Surveillant Huguet

Robert le Flon as Surveillant Pete-Sec

Du Verron as Surveillant General Bec-de-Gaz

Delphin as Principal du College

Leon Larive as Professeur

Madame Emile as Mere Haricot

Louis de Gonzague as Prefet

Raphael Diligent as Pompier

Louis Lefebvre as Caussat

Gilbert Pruchon as Colin

Coco Goldestein as Bruel

Gerard de Bedarieux as Tabard

L’Atalante

Michel Simon as Le Pere Jules

Dita Parlo as Juliette

Jean Daste as Jean

Gilles Margarities as Le camelot

Louis Lefebre as Le gosse (Kid)

Maurice Gilles as Le chef de bureau

Raphael Diligent as Raspoutin, le batelier

Even among cinema’s legends, Jean Vigo stands apart. The son of a notorious anarchist, Vigo had a brief but brilliant career making poetic, lightly surrealist films before his life was cut tragically short by tuberculosis at age twenty-nine. Like the daring early works of his contemporaries Jean Cocteau and Luis Buñuel, Vigo’s films refused to play by the rules. This set includes all of Vigo’s titles: À propos de Nice, an absurdist, rhythmic slice of life from the bustling coastal city; Taris, an inventive short portrait of a swimming champion; Zéro de conduite, a radical, delightful tale of boarding-school rebellion that has influenced countless filmmakers; and L’Atalante, widely regarded as one of cinema’s finest achievements, about newlyweds beginning their life together on a canal barge. These are the witty, visually adventurous works of a pivotal film artist.

Jean Vigo…the man who influenced the French New Wave post-humously.

Jean Vigo…the legendary filmmaker who died of a young age of 29, only directed four films which didn’t do well in the box office but yet, is highly regarded by filmmakers and critics.

Jean Vigo…the filmmaker who directed the adaptation of “L’Atalante” considered by filmmaker Francis Truffaut as the predecessor of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” and considered by Truffaut as one of his ten best films of all time.

So, who is this man… Jean Vigo?

The filmmaker was the son of a famous, anarchist militant named Miguel Almereyda who died of mysterious circumstances in prison (it is believed that authorities strangled Almereyda during his sleep, while the prison wrote it down as a suicide).

So, Vigo as a young man lived a life full of pain.  Living from one orphanage to the next.  His descendants were afflicted with tuberculosis, his grandmother was institutionalized, his siblings died at a young age and the only thing he had to his name was a photo of his grandfather with the inscription “I protect the weakest”.

And as a teenager, he fell in love with cinema, established his own film club in Nice and wanted to work in cinema to the point that he wrote to as many companies asking if he can be an assistant.

But when Jean Vigo met his girlfriend and wife (from a good family), his father-in-law gave him the opportunity to make films by giving him a camera and this would begin Jean Vigo’s career as an independent filmmaker and lead him to the road of creating his four films “À propos de Nice” (1930), a commissioned film titled “Taris” (1931) and his two films  that he is known for: “Zero de Conduite” (1933) and “L’Atalante” (1934).

And to celebrate the career of Jean Vigo, the Criterion Collection is releasing “The Complete Jean Vigo” on Blu-ray and DVD in Aug. 2011.

The first short featured is a silent film titled “À propos de Nice”, a short documentary that includes real life footage of the rich and the working class via hidden camera in Nice but also staged elements.

Vigo said of “À propos de Nice” that it is a “last gap of a society so lost in its escapism that it sickens you and makes you sympathetic to a revolutionary solution”.

Vigo pokes fun at the rich showcasing them with their expensive outfits but also showcasing gag elements such as a man getting a suntan and his face is burned black to the man getting his shoes shined to the point where the shoe is shined to the point of disappearing.

The 1930 film also showcases special effects of the time as Vigo utilizes slow motion to showcase the vibrant dancing girls (which he makes his own brief appearance dancing) to using reverse footage.

The second short is a commissioned film titled “Tardis”, in which he was hired among other newer filmmakers to create educational film.  In this case, a nine minute film about champion swimmer Jean Tardis teaching people his style of swimming.  Vigo could care less about the character but wanted to experiment with shooting in water and while Vigo was not so fond of the film (as the company brought in another filmmaker to complete it), Vigo’s interest in shooting in water would be showcased in his final film “L’Atalante”.

The final two films featured on the Blu-ray disc are films that Vigo is best known for.

“Zero de Conduite” is Vigo’s 1933 film which many say is a predecessor to films such as Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” and Lindsay Anderson’s”If…”, while the film can be seen as being inspired by Jean Renoir’s “Tire au Flanc” (1928) and Charlie Chaplin’s “Shoulder Arms” (1918).

The film revolves around a group of boys wanting to revolt against the system at their boarding school.  The authority of the school are painted as imbeciles and in terms of the style of the film, “Zero de Conduite” can be seen as Vigo’s experimental film but also a film that draws from his own experience of attending boarding school and having to endure a repressive educational establishment.  Showing Vigo’s maturity, as well as inheriting his father’s anarchistic view during his childhood and demonstrating his artistic flair, the use of slow motion, camera angles and a bold storyline for its time showcasing realism and revolt.

An audacious film for its time, “Zero de Conduite” was banned by film censors due to its content and would never be released until nearly a decade after his death in 1945.

The final film on the Blu-ray is Vigo’s last film and his defining masterpiece is “L’Atalante”.

Directed while the young filmmaker was sick from tuberculosis (its important to mention that “Zero de Conduite”, Jean Vigo was also ill and directed scenes wile laying in a cot).  Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman once said “One must make each film as if it were the last”, perhaps Jean Vigo knew through his illness that if “L’Atalante” was to be his last film, you go out with a bang.

A film ahead of its time, “L’Atalante” was a failure in the box office, misunderstood by theater owners and the final cut that Vigo made was butchered.  But through restoration and efforts to try to restore the film, it is what the filmmakers of the French New Wave would watch and be inspired by Vigo’s work.

Francois Truffaut who first watched the film at the age 14 said in an interview about the film, “When I entered the theater, I didn’t even know who Jean Vigo was. I was immediately overwhelmed with wild enthusiasm for his work.”

“L’Atalante” is a story about a couple Jean (played by Jean Daste) and Juliette (played by Dita Parlo) who have just gotten married.  Jean is the commander of the barge “L’Atalante” and Juliette, who has never left her country village, joins him on his voyages in the canals of France.

Joining the two are Le père Jules (played by Michel Simon), the first mate of the barge who is constantly drunk, buying odd things and has way too many cats onboard the L’Atalante.  Also, joining them is a young kid (played by Louis Lefebvre) who is pretty much Jules’ apprentice.

But for Jean and Juliette, the two are in love and she tells him one day that according to a story that she was once told, you will see the person you love when you stick your head into water.  Of course, Jean joking around with her, keeps putting his head in a bucket and then into the canal and jokingly tells her that he sees her.

As the four to continue their journey riding on the barge, Juliette starts to grow bored of being confined to a small place, pretty much the bedroom and never ever having the chance to go on land.

When Jean tries to listen to the radio one day, she overhears a news report on the pop culture of Paris.  Hoping to one day see Paris, we get to see a sign of Jean’s anger, perhaps because he feels that for a person who has never seen the world, she may leave him?  But she insists on listening to the radio, he doesn’t want her to and it is the first sign of bickering of the two.

Juliette tries to relieve her boredom by sitting on the chair and riding on the barge and then even to the point of visiting the drunken and unkept Le père Jules, who tries to show all the things he has found all over the globe.  But for Jean, seeing Juliette inside Jules bedroom fuels his jealousy of his wife being around another man that he goes into a state of destruction, trying to destroy whatever he can inside Jules bedroom.

As the L’Atalante reaches Paris, Juliette asks if Jean can finally take her out and show her around on land, and get out of the barge just for once.  He agrees.

But as they go into a bar/club to grab something to eat, immediately a salesman from Paris begins flirting with her in front of Jean.  Jean doesn’t do a thing to stop it but inside, his anger starts to grow.

The salesman picks up Juliette from her seat and asks her for a dance and we can see Jean’s temper starting to grow until he is unable to control it and ends up hitting the salesman.

While Jean brings his wife Juliette and forces her to stay in the barge as he feels he can’t trust her on land, Jean, Jules and the kid go out for awhile but waiting for them to leave is the salesman.  The salesman tries to win Juliette’s affection and tells her that all he needs is for her to leave for an hour and he can show her the beauty of Paris.

Juliette wants to see the world but how is she to enjoy life when she is stuck in a small space nearly every day of her life?  Will her love for Jean make her stay or will her wanting to see the world want to make her leave for a few hours?

VIDEO:

Each of the films presented on “The Complete Jean Vigo” Blu-ray release are presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio for “À propos de Nice” and “L’Atalante” while “Zero de Conduite” is presented in 1:19:1) and look absolutely fantastic.

First, for the first three films, the condition of these films are in very good condition especially for the 1930 film “À propos de Nice”, a silent film which you would think would have major problems with its overall look, the film actually looks fantastic on Blu-ray.  And this goes for every other film in this release, blacks levels are nice and deep, contrast is fantastic as grays and whites do pop! and for anyone who has watched “L’Atalante” and have only seen bad copies of the film, once you watch it on Blu-ray and see how good the film is, fans of this classic will be surprised.

While some of the films have white speckles, by no means are these a distraction.  Trust me on this one, these films look very awesome on Blu-ray, especially considering the condition of the previous video versions I have seen of these films awhile back.

According to the Criterion Collection, these new high-definition digital transfers were created on a Spirit Datacine from the following elements: “À propos de Nice” and “Taris” are from 35 mm fine-grain master positives, “Zero de Conduite” is from a 35 mm fine-grain master positive and a 35 mm duplicate negative and L’Atalante from the 2001 Gaumont 35 mm restoration negative.

Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, flicker and instability were manually removed from each film using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Complete Jean Vigo” is presented in French LPCM monaural.  According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtracks were remastered at 24-bit from 35 mm positive and negative optical soundtracks.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

For “À propos de Nice”, a score was performed by Marc Perrone in 2001.

For the most part, each of these films feature a clear soundtrack which I detected no noticeable hiss or any problems whatsoever.  Dialogue is clear for “Zero de Conduite” and also L’Atalante”.  Once again, this is the best I have heard from these films and fans of Jean Vigo’s films should be happy with the overall soundtrack.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Complete Jean Vigo – The Criterion Collection #578” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Audio commentaries featuring Michael Temple, author of “Jean Vigo” for all four films.
  • Alternate version of À propos de Nice(21:31) An alternate version of “A propos de Nice” which Jean Vigo gave to a friend.  No score for this alternate version.
  • A tribute by Michel Gondry – (:45) A short animation as a tribute to Jean Vigo by Michel Gondry.
  • Cinéastes de notre temps – (1:38:15) Featuring director Jacques Rozier’s documentary on Jean Vigo from October 15, 1964.
  • Truffaut and Rohmer on L’Atlante – (18:17) Conversation from 1968 between filmmakers François Truffaut and Eric Rohmer on “L’Atalante”.
  • Les voyages de “L’Atalante”  – (40:03) Film restorer and historian Bernard Eisenschitz’s 2001 documentary tracking the history of the various versions of the film released.
  • Otar Iosseliani on Vigo – (19:57) A 2001 interview with director Otar Iosseliani who talks about how Jean Vigo influenced his work.

 

EXTRAS:

“The Complete Jean Vigo – The Criterion Collection #578” comes with a 46-page booklet, which includes the following essays: “Jean Vigo” by Michael Almereyda, “A Propos de Jean and Boris” by Robert Polito, “Rude Freedom” by B. Kite and “Canal Music” by Luc Sante.

With releases from the Criterion Collection, I tend to be quite grateful for the films they bring out to the US and give special treatment, but there are times when a title comes along and literally puts this big smile on my face throughout the day and just waiting and anticipating its release because I want to watch it so badly.

This is how I feel about “The Complete Jean Vigo” Blu-ray release.

And there are not many filmmakers with a short oeuvre that really catch my attention but for Jean Vigo, this is an exception.  Afterall, if you love the work of Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Jim Jarmusch to name a few, these filmmakers were pretty much inspired by Jean Vigo.

Afterall, this filmmaker in the 1930’s, not only went against traditional cinema with his poetic, artistic style, he also faced critical attacks from critics and theater owners because his films were not like other films of that time.  You can say that Vigo’s films were ahead of its time and to think that with the four films that he worked on, if he lived a long life, one can only imagine the possibilities of the types of cinema that would have been created by him.

I think Francois Truffaut was correct when he compared another French filmmaker of that same era, Jean Renoir, who was a humanist but in Truffaut’s words, “Renoir’s heart never bled”.

Vigo was a man who drew from his painful experience and it was that drive that brought him to cinema and to create the films that he did.  From “À propos de Nice” and showcasing the rich and the poor and also mocking the rich.  And then getting the opportunity to film a champion swimmer in “Tardis” but caring less about creating a film about a swimmer giving instructions but to use the time wisely to learn about doing the kind of film he wanted to do, but this time in the water.  While “Zero de Conduite” is Vigo’s chance to let out his frustration of boarding school through the boys featured in the film.

His artistic expression with the use of reverse film, slow motion and as Truffaut had said of Vigo, the use of two major tendencies of cinema – realism and estheticism.  “L’Atalante”  has a theme that focuses on the journey of a couple from marriage, their difficulty of trying to adapt to each other and one having to go through love, pain, reconciliation and acceptance.

“L’Atalante” is a love story first and foremost but its efficacy lies in its realism.  This is no love story that lies within the confine of the typical love story banality.  These are human emotions that anyone can feel but the way its portrayed, as the word Truffaut used “estheticism”, bringing art to daily life.

The inclusion of the other Vigo films in this Blu-ray release is a way to understand Jean Vigo and how it applies to “L’Atalante”.

“À propos de Nice” towards society, as the character of Jean already has some contempt towards city life and that is probably why he is somewhat of an escapist, preferring to live his life in his barge instead of living in the city with his wife.

“Tardis” as a way for Vigo to reconnect with his passion of filming ala the aquatics and provides one of the most beautiful scenes in “L’Atalante” and “Zero de Conduite” as a way to showcase Vigo’s rebelliousness and to ensure his drive to create anything through non-traditional means.  Sensual scenes where we see both husband and wife, miles apart, dreaming of each other sexually and the way it was filmed was bold yet artistic and poetic.

It’s hard to believe that the film was so ill received but at the time, no one dare try anything outside of traditional cinema.  Granted, the Germans were known for their expressionist cinema but even Fritz Lang’s 1927 “Metropolis” didn’t do well in the box office.  But you look at 1934 and romantic films were driven by romantic comedies of MGM’s “The Thin Man”, RKO’s “The Gay Divorcee” and Columbia’s “It Happened One Night” which dominated not just America but also international cinema.

“L’Atalante” was nothing like those films that year.  Fast forward to 2011 and watching “L’Atalante” today and I still feel that why this film is still loved was because it is a film that was done the way that Vigo had wanted.  The theaters owners and the movie studio Gaumont obviously didn’t feel the same way and butchered the film (and ironically, would many decades later work to restore the film).

But the beauty of Jean Vigo’s work is that he remained true to himself, to his work and died at a young age, but yet managing to give everything he had to what possibly saved him from his own destruction.  Cinema provided the outlet, and Jean Vigo used it well, even though he was ill with tuberculosis, which would claim his life at the young age of 29.

“The Complete Jean Vigo” is a magnificent release.   For many years, cinema fans have wanted this release for America but the only way to watch these films was the 2004 Artificial Eye European release or bad copies that existed in terrible condition.

So, watching these four films on Blu-ray and seeing how great they look in HD, I was ecstatic.  And then to watch them with in-depth commentary bundled with lengthy special features and once again, the Criterion Collection has released a magnificent Blu-ray release.

Criterion Collection fans, those who are curious about this release and of course, the die-hard Jean Vigo fans, “The Complete Jean Vigo” is absolutely wonderful and is a must-buy, must-own 5-star release.  Highly recommended!

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