Jean Vigo

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Jean Vigo
Jean Vigo.jpg
Born (1905-04-26)26 April 1905
Paris, France
Died 5 October 1934(1934-10-05) (aged 29)
Paris, France
Occupation Film director
Years active 1930–1934

Jean Vigo (French: [vigo]; 26 April 1905 – 5 October 1934) was a French film director who helped establish poetic realism in film in the 1930s; he was a posthumous influence on the French New Wave of the late 1950s and early 1960s.


Vigo was born to Emily Clero and the prominent Catalan militant anarchist Eugeni Bonaventura de Vigo i Sallés (who adopted the name Miguel Almereyda - an anagram of "y'a la merde", which translates as "there's the shit"). Much of his early life was spent on the run with his parents. His father was murdered in the infirmary of Fresnes Prison on the night of 13 August 1917. The Gomes biography of Vigo says that a common criminal named Bernard, who had been put in charge of keeping watch over the sick prisoner that night, supposedly approached Almereyda's bed while he slept, and used shoelaces to garrotte his victim. "The autopsy showed that Almereyda was suffering from peritonitis and a ruptured appendix. There was over a litre of pus in his abdomen. His end had been near anyhow." Vague theories circulated that Almereyda was hushed up by order of extreme Socialist politicians, Malvy and Caillaux, men later punished for war-time treason.[1] The young Vigo was subsequently sent to boarding school under an assumed name, Jean Sales, to conceal his identity.

Vigo was married and had a daughter, Luce Vigo (a film critic) in 1931. He died in 1934 of complications from tuberculosis, which he had contracted eight years earlier.


Vigo is noted for two films which affected the future development of both French and world cinema: Zéro de conduite (1933) and L'Atalante (1934). Zéro de conduite was approvingly described by critic David Thomson as "forty-four minutes of sustained, if roughly shot anarchic crescendo." L'Atalante was Vigo's only full-length feature; the simple story of a newly married couple splitting and reuniting is notable for the way it effortlessly merges rough, naturalistic filmmaking with shimmering, dreamlike sequences and effects. Thomson described the result as "not so much a masterpiece as a definition of cinema, and thus a film that stands resolutely apart from the great body of films."

His career began with two other films: À propos de Nice (1930), a subversive silent film inspired by Bolshevik newsreels which considered social inequity in 1920s Nice; and Taris, roi de l'eau (1931), a motion study of swimmer Jean Taris. None of his four films were financial successes; at one point, with his and his wife's health suffering, Vigo was forced to sell his camera.

Zéro de conduite was banned by the French government until after the war, and L'Atalante was mutilated by its distributor. By this point, Vigo was too ill to strenuously fight the matter. Both films have outlived their detractors; L'Atalante was chosen as the 10th-greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound's 1962 poll, and as the 6th-best in its 1992 poll. In the late 1980s a 1934 copy of L'Atalante was found in the British National Film and Television Archive, and became a key element in the restoration of the film to its original version.[2]

Writing on Vigo's career in The New York Times, film critic Andrew Johnston stated: "The ranks of the great film directors are short on Keatses and Shelleys, young artists cut off in their prime, leaving behind a handful of great works that suggest what might have been. But one who qualifies is Jean Vigo, the French director who died of tuberculosis at age 29 in 1934."[3]



2011 Parajanov-Vartanov Institute Award posthumously honored Jean Vigo [4][5] for Zero for Conduct and was presented to his daughter and French film critic Luce Vigo by Oscar-winning Hollywood actor Jon Voight. Martin Scorsese wrote a letter for the occasion[6] with praise for Vigo, Sergei Parajanov and Mikhail Vartanov, all of whom struggled with heavy censorship.



Musician Steve Adey wrote a song called 'Dita Parlo' on his 2012 studio album The Tower of Silence. The song was written in response to Vigo's L'Atalante.[7]


  1. ^ Gomes, Paulo Emílio Salles (1971). Jean Vigo. University of California Press. pp. 27–29. ISBN 978-0-520-01676-7. 
  2. ^ Temple, Michael (2005). Jean Vigo. Manchester University Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-7190-5632-1. 
  3. ^ The New York Times, June 11, 2000
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Further reading[edit]

  • Michael Temple, Jean Vigo. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005.
  • David Weir, Jean Vigo and the Anarchist Eye. Atlanta: On Our Own Authority! Publishing, 2014.

External links[edit]