Radical Films: Zero de Conduite (Zero for Conduct) – Jean Vigo

“War is declared! Down with teachers! Up with revolution!”

Zéro de Conduite – Jeunes diables au collège, Jean Vigo’s 1933 masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion, is available for viewing and download on the Internet Archive.

A group of boarding students (played by Louis Lefebvre, Gilbert Pruchon, Gerard de Bedarieux, and Constantin Goldstein-Kehler) rebel against the regime of their teachers and the midget headmaster (played by Delphin).

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Zéro de conduite (English: Zero for Conduct) is a 1933 film by French film director Jean Vigo. It was first shown on April 7, 1933, and was subsequently banned in France until February 15, 1946.

The film draws extensively on Vigo’s boarding school experiences to depict a repressive and bureaucratised educational establishment in which surreal acts of rebellion occur, reflecting Vigo’s anarchist view of childhood. The title refers to a mark the boys would get which prevented from going out on Sundays. It also shows the influence of Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi.

Though the film was not immediately popular, it has proven to be enduringly influential. François Truffaut paid homage to Zéro de conduite in his 1959 film The 400 Blows by copying, practically shot-for-shot, the scene in which a line of schoolboys jogging through Paris loses its members one by one to the attractions of the city. Lindsay Anderson’s film If…. in its whole is a less whimsical reimagining of Zéro.

Vigo was the son of a Catalan anarchist militant, Eugeni Bonaventura de Vigo i Sallés (whose nom de guerre, Miguel Almereyda, was an anagram of “y’a la merde”, which translates as “there is shit”) who died in jail under suspicious circumstances. Zéro de Conduite draws on prison life, Vigo’s anarchist values, and his experiences as a boarding school student in Paris (under an assumed name) for its depiction of an oppressive, bureaucratic regime and the boyish rebellion against it.

The final scene of liberation – the boys escaping across the rooftops – lingers long after the movie ends…

As  well as being intransigently radical, Zéro de Conduite is also deeply poetical, and much of the rebelliousness is whimsical to the point of seeming like a dream. In part, the whimsy and dreamlike moments reflect circumstances of its production. As originally shot, the film was much longer than it was meant to be. In cutting it down to the required length, Vigo removed narrative material and left behind the most evocative scenes. It was an inspired artistic choice. It also no doubt reflected the artistic currents that Vigo engaged with during his time at the Sorbonne in the late 1920s.

Tragically, Vigo was to make just one more film – albeit one widely regarded as a masterpiece of world cinema – before his death of tuberculosis at the very young age of 29. L’Atalante, this final film, was selected as one of the Top Ten films of all time in Sight & Sound’s 1962 poll, and again in 1992 in both the Directors and Critics Polls – an astonishing achievement for the second feature film by a director still in his twenties, made 60 years earlier.

As well as Internet Archive, you can watch Zéro de Conduite on Google Videos or YouTube.

For more…

One response to “Radical Films: Zero de Conduite (Zero for Conduct) – Jean Vigo

  1. Pingback: Tonight and Tomorrow: Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” at the Red Vic « zerode

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