The Poetic Classics Dazzling Forever in Cinema History: Rediscovery of Jean VIGO
“4K Restoration” has always been one of the most popular programs at the Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF). New technical standards have provided technological support for the rejuvenation of the classics in the history of cinema, allowing viewers after decades to travel through the time, and get direct access to the past images.
Film restoration not only erases the dust on film classics, but also forms up an opportunity to reconstruct the lost archives in the film history, explore the true and original missions of our predecessors, and reproduce the birth and evolution of movies. The 21st Shanghai International Film Festival has specially prepared a rare array of film works for the audience at the 4K Restoration program. Starting from these images, we will have the opportunity to follow the pace of historical research and archival restoration, and approach another dazzling period in the history of cinema.
The French celebrated director Jean VIGO was such a genius who truly dazzled like a star.
He began his career in filmmaking at the age of 20 in 1925, by taking part in the production of NAPOLÉON, a work of French film pioneer Abel GANCE. When he died of illness in 1934, he was only 29. In the several years of his directing career, he only completed two short films À PROPOS DE NICE and TARIS, ROI DE L'EAU; and two features ZÉRO DE CONDUITE and L'ATALANTE.
Today, when people speak of Jean VIGO, they often quote Truffaut’s remarks:
“On a Saturday afternoon in 1946, through a movie screening organized by André BAZIN's film club at Sveres-Pathé, I was fortunate to watch Vigo's movie... I hadn’t heard of his name when I walked into the cinema, but I imtely went crazy for his work; the entire film was less than 200 minutes.”
This creation of “less than 200 minutes” spanned two phases in the history of France: the avant-garde art in the 1920s and the poetic realism in the 1930s. L'ATALANTE is the early-stage representative of the latter period, and is even considered one of the ten greatest works of film history.
The movie, disfavored by the film company, was cut to 65 minutes for public release. After the director's death, the film started to gain attention. With the discovery and restoration of the film material, people tried to get closer and closer to the original appearance of L'ATALANTE, and the original intention of Jean VIGO. It is the similar case for ZÉRO DE CONDUITE.
This June, more complete versions of Jean VIGO’s four films (two short, two full-length) will be screened in 4K-restored during the Shanghai International Film Festival. In addition, two archive films: YOUNG DEVILS IN SCHOOL – ZÉRO DE CONDUITE, RUSHES, SOUND AND IMAGE and WINTER SHOOTING - L’ATALANTE, RUSHES AND OUTTAKES, which are composed of the recovered footages of Jean VIGO’s works, as well as related abandoned materials, video and text will also meet with the audience.
Bold and poetic, his works have perfectly embodied his free soul. More than that, he seemed to have a special fascination with water, which is reflected in the portrayal of the Nice at seaside, the underwater shooting of the swimming champion, and the classic scene of the bride illusion underwater in L'ATALANTE. His early death was also due in part to such infatuation. In the freezing winter of Paris, he insisted on shooting, which made him suffer from cold and severe illness.
Zéro de conduite
Jean VIGO's works have influenced countless creators of later generations. In the French film circle, an award was named after him (the Prix Jean Vigo), to acclaim young filmmakers with “independent spirit” and “original styles”. Many well-noted directors have won this award in their early days of creation, from Alain RESNAIS, Jean-Luc GODARD around the New Wave, to Philippe GARREL, Alain GUIRAUDIE, and Arnaud DESPLECHIN.
We hope that his films could lead the audience to the depths of film history and see its evolution, while allowing them to get a glimpse of the spirit and temperament of Jean VIGO.
Àpropos de Nice
Release year: 1930
ÀPROPOS DE NICE is a documentary of “urban symphony” featuring the coastal city Nice in the south of France. At its annual carnival, wealthy and leisurely people come to the resort for vacation, enjoying the beach and sunshine, while the impoverished people in the old town are living a tough life.
Taris, roi de l'eau
Release year: 1931
This is a swimming teaching film centering on the French swimmer Taris. In the documentary, Jean VIGO experimented with underwater cinematography, which also provided him with experience in shooting underwater footages in L'ATALANTE.
Zéro de conduite
Release year: 1933
Starring: Jean DASTÉ/ Robert le FLON
The students at a boarding school in France return to the repressive campus after the holidays. The life here is dull and repeated. The students are often rebuked and physically punished by the teachers. A slight rebellion may result in Zero for Conduct. To the lively children, the depressing atmosphere is unbearable.
On the school day, important guests are invited to visit the well-organized school. When they gather at the playground, the furious students throw books, shoes, cans off the roof and hang a flag painted with a skull on the top of the teaching building. They recklessly revel everywhere in the school, leaving the guests in shock and anger, but could do nothing. The students eventually take over the harsh boarding school.
Release year: 1934
Starring: Michel SIMON/ Dita PARLO/ Jean DASTÉ
The story begins with a wedding. The captain of the canal barge L'Atalante, marries Juliette in her village. After marriage, Juliette is soon tired of the monotonous and boring life on the boat, longing for the big city of Paris. The captain drives the barge to Paris to please Juliette. However, due to the twists and turns during the journey, the plan doesn’t work out. The relationship between the two becomes tenser.
Later, Juliette leaves for Paris alone. The captain is so angry that he drives the barge away. After the separation, the captain misses Juliette very much and couldn’t get her out of his mind. Will Juliette, who is wandering in Paris, choose to stay in this bustling city or return to L'Atalante and the husband who loves her so much?
Young Devilsin School – Zéro de Conduite, Rushes, Sound and Image
The archive film YOUNG DEVILS IN SCHOOL was re-cut from the footages and some abandoned clips of ZÉRO DE CONDUITE, including the original material found by the production company Gaumont at the French Film Center, and the behind-the-scene video of Jean VIGO.
In 1933, ZÉRO DE CONDUITE was released in France, but was banned before long. Until 1945 when it was reshown, some part of the movie was deleted. Recently, another version of ZÉRO DE CONDUITE, which has longer running time and is not added with subtitles, was rediscovered in the Milan Film Archive. Compared to the 1945 version, the later copy retains more details and is considered the original film completed in 1933.
WinterShooting - L’Atalante,Rushes and Outtakes
The archive film WINTER SHOOTING, with running time of over one hour, contains the discarded footages of L'ATALANTE and some newly discovered materials of the original film produced by Jean VIGO. After the director finished the editing, he left Paris for recuperation. His friend Maurice JAUBERT helped produce the original music. The copy of L'ATALANTE lately discovered in London was widely recognized as coming from Jaubert.
Previously, the director of the French Film Archive, Henri LANGLOIS has made a repaired version of L'ATALANTE, which is added with some of the original clips found in the 1940s. Compared with that, WINTER SHOOTING shows the creation process of Jean VIGO in a clearer and more holistic manner. Narrated by Bernard EISENSCHITZ, a famous film historian, curator and researcher who also participated in the restoration of the original film, the archive movie traces the creation and ideas of the director, leading the audience back to the scene of “winter shooting” and meet with Jean VIGO.