The Complete Jean Vigo (À propos de Nice / Taris / Zéro de conduite / L'Atalante) (Criterion Collection) (Version française)
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Even among cinema’s greatest legends, Jean Vigo stands alone. 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 of the title; 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, of course, L’Atalante, widely regarded as one of cinema’s finest achievements, about newlyweds beginning their life together on a canal barge. These are the endlessly witty, visually adventurous works of a pivotal film artist.
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For me there is no movie more romantic and heartfelt than L'Atalante. It's story is simple enough, a young couple is married in a small town and then begins married life on Seine River barge heading for Paris. The deck hand is Michel Simon, (Boudu Saved From Drowning -Jean Renoir) in another funny role. They arrive in Paris, complications ensue... L'Atalante inspired the French New Wave, especially Francois Truffaut, Claude Lelouch and Jacques Rivette. It's one of the great treasures.
Zero de Conduite - is about a rebellion in a boarding school and established that genre. Luis Bunuel's Los Olvidados and Truffaut's the 400 Blows, quote directly from it.
A Propos de Nice and Taris are a City Film and a study of a swimming champion. They will seem very dated, but if you love movies, city films-films about cities-are interesting, both historically, and for the film techniques they used. The qualities of these short movies led directly to Vigo being allowed to make his two feature films.
I can't say enough about Jean Vigo and especially L'Atalante and Zero de Conduit.
While so far we have fairly entertaining fare for me at least "L'Atalante" is the masterpiece here. I have watched it 3 times already and I can't wait to watch it again which to me spells classic film in any language. I find myself surprised at the way this otherwise very simple story of newly weds embarking both figuratively and literally on their journey of marriage and some of the usual problems that such couples encounter albeit compressed in 87 minutes what in real life takes months or even years is told by Vigo. His at least to me strange choice of camera angles and framing of shots gave me the distinct impression that he was purposely trying to surprise me at every turn. It was as if Vigo knew what I was expecting to see and so he deliberately did things differently just to spite me; the result was not anger on my part but pleasant surprise that makes me want to watch this over and over again just to make sure that I actually saw what I thought I saw.
I can count on one hand how many films make me want to watch them over and over again and now I can count "L'Atalante" among these. As mentioned at the start, this film was subject to many indignities being so far ahead of its time that this restored version in blu ray appears to be the best that can currently be done unless someone miraculously discovers a better master print somewhere. Imperfections abound but not at least for me to be too distracting and I have seen a lot worse such as the very poor treatment by Kino of "Les Vampires" for example and so while the picture quality isn't perfect it isn't that bad either. The sound quality is also quite good and as is usually the case with the magnificent Criterion the special features are indeed special with great documentaries and interviews about the film.
This is the first time I've seen Michel Simon and his performance as Pere Jules must rank among the greatest acting of all time and for me ranks as highly as Walter Huston's in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre"; it is that good. It is his character that becomes the unlikely hero throughout the film that suggests whether they like it or not the youth still depend upon the experience of their elders to get them through. This is a highly enjoyable film that deserves to be in any film buff's video library and although not perfect is still a very worthy Criterion blu ray release.
"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 of Shadows (The Criterion Collection),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 we're all talking about.
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