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Complete Jean Vigo, The


									“The Complete Jean Vigo,” consists of three short, early silent works
of the French filmmaker, “A propos de Nice,”“Taris,” and “Zero de
conduite,” along with “L’Atalante,” (1930),thankfully a talkie, a
romantic drama that is considered one of the lesser known glories of
early French cinema, which is a shame, as it is a masterpiece.

“A propos de Nice” is a rhythmic view of life in that bustling tourist
city; it occasionally rises to unexpected absurd heights.   “Taris” is
a portrait of a swimming champion. “Zero de conduite” is an
inventive, charming tale of rebellious boarding school students, a topic
on which Vigo can be presumed to know a lot: It has been endlessly
influential to other film makers world wide over the years.

“L’Atalante”is in black and white, runs a tight 89 minutes, and is
the greatest achievement of Vigo, a too-little known but greatly
respected and influential film maker, who died of tuberculosis, shortly
after its completion, at the shockingly young age of 29. The film is
now generally available only on this disk that constitutes the entire
oeuvre of the director’s short, turbulent life.

Vigo’s master work opens as Juliette, a young girl who has never set
foot outside her village, marries Jean, mate on a French river barge
named “L’Atalante,” and sets up housekeeping aboard. Also aboard are
a cabin boy, and the colorful old sailor Pere Jules, played by the
inimitable Michel Simon (PORT DES BRUMES, THE TRAIN). When the barge
reaches Paris, Juliette, who has never seen that great city, slips off
to take a look at it. Jean awakes, discovers her gone, and leaves her
to her own devices in the French capital. She knows no one there, has
no money, does not know the city at all, and will have a very hard time
there. But so will Jean, on his own again, until Pere Jules goes to
find her.

But this simple, engaging plot isn’t the reason the film is so loved.
It was restored in 2001, making Boris Kaufman’s brilliant
cinematography and Maurice Jaubert’s lovely score accessible again. The
picture is legendary for its sheer, sparkling beauty: the waterways of
France, and of Paris – the movie was filmed in that city’s “Bassin de
la Villette, Paris 19”-- among other locations, have never looked more
evocatively beautiful. The characters are full-blown, their actions
unpredictable, confusing, true to life. The film is wildly imaginative,
inventive, surrealist, and has been compared to the daring early works
of Vigo’s contemporaries, the better known Jean Cocteau and Luis
Bunuel. It remains fresh today, with scenes that still have the power
to surprise and absorb us.

Vigo was the son of Miguel Almareyda, a notorious anarchist, who died
mysteriously in jail when Vigo was 12. The young boy was always in poor
health: he was abandoned by his mother and sent from boarding school to
boarding school. Lucky for us, he took up film at age 23. Just because
Vigo is little-known today, doesn’t mean his work is not accessible.
You want to see what I’m talking about.

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