Jean Vigo Biography

Director(1905–1934)
Jean Vigo was an innovative 20th century French director and screenwriter who was later revered for the works Zéro de Conduite and L'Atalante.

Synopsis

Born on April 26, 1905, in Paris, France, to anarchist parents, Jean Vigo became a filmmaker, releasing the visually arresting shortÀ Propos de Nice before creating the longer features Zéro de Conduite and L'Atalante. Though his work was censored by authorities, he would later be seen as having a unique, highly influential vision. Having struggled with illness, Vigo died at age 29, on October 5, 1934.

Background

Filmmaker Jean Vigo was born on April 26, 1905, in Paris, France, to Emily Clâro and Eugêne Bonaventure de Vigo. His parents were noted anarchists, and his father, who used the alias Miguel Almereyda, was arrested several times during Vigo's youth. It was suspected that the elder Vigo was set up and killed in his jail cell when Vigo was only 12.

The youngster, who used an alias as well growing up, attended the Lycâe Marceau school by the early 1920s and would later study at the Sorbonne.

Begins Film Career

Having struggled with his health due to tuberculosis, Vigo was sent to a sanitarium in the Pyrénées region, which is where he met his future wife, Elisabeth "Lydou" Lozinska. The couple wed in 1929 and had a daughter, Luce.

Spending time in Nice, Vigo was able to find an outlet for his movie-making passions and worked with cameraman Boris Kaufman to direct the 23-minute documentary À Propos de Nice (1930). The film had a free-associative structure and relied solely on visuals and music to depict its story, juxtaposing images of the rigid, financially well-to-do with the working class and poor. A carnival full of dancing and flowers brought up the rear.

Boarding School and Love

His following work, 1931's Taris, was another short, focusing on swimming champ Jean Taris. Zéro de Conduite arrived in 1933 and was a longer feature at 41 minutes. Believed to be inspired by Vigo's own childhood experiences as he served as screenwriter, the film tells the story of a group of boarding school youngsters who come to upturn the authoritarian rules placed upon them. Zéro was deemed subversive and removed from French theaters.

Vigo's next and last film, L'Atalante (1934), looked at a wedded couple (played by actors Dita Parlo and Jean Dasté) who lived on a barge, with their relationship becoming more complex as they visit the Parisian scene. The film was also censored, edited and re-released under a new name.

Death and Legacy

Due to illness, Vigo died at the age of 29, on October 5, 1934, in the city of his birth. Though having a small body of work, his vision has been internationally recognized by the film community over the years, having influenced other French directors like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut and serving as a revered forerunner to aesthetics found in contemporary indie cinema.

In his honor, the Jean Vigo Prize is awarded on an annual basis for innovative filmmaking. Decades after Vigo's death, his daughter wrote the book, Jean Vigo: Une Vie Engagée Dans le Cinéma.

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