http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/The Complete Jean Vigo (Blu-ray)
A propos de Nice/Taris/Zéro de conduite/L’Atalante
Directed by Jean Vigo (and Boris Kaufman)
Aspect Ratio: 1.19:1/1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 163 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 French
Release Date: August 30, 2011
Review Date: September 4, 2011
A propos de Nice (which is co-directed with cinematographer Boris Kaufman) is a slice of life investigation around and about the coastal French tourist town of Nice. The directors take the camera up and down with ease featuring striking aerial views of the city and wicked low views up the skirts of some girls celebrating carnival season by kicking their legs above their heads. They explore the athletic events going in town (tennis matches, Grand Prix racing, gambling, sailboat races), and most of all they find ordinary people fascinating taking the camera right into the faces of folks both old and young, attractive and rather odd. They use cinematic metaphors when they can (showing a woman lounging in a chair in a variety of outfits and then nude using stop motion editing, a man sunning himself until leathery brown compared to a pit of crocodiles, lovely flowers tossed during the carnival parade become ugly refuse that have to be cleaned up). This social documentary gave Vigo the chance to experiment with time lapse photography and various frame speeds as the director did virtual on-the-job training for what was to come.
Taris, a nine-minute examination of French swimming star Jean Taris, offered more chances for Vigo to experiment with the camera, this time using reverse motion and slow motion and underwater photography (which would come in handy for his final film). Ostensibly a look at the world champion swimmer as he takes us through explanations of the crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, and flip turns (among other moves), Vigo’s real motivation seemed to be in examining the human form in the weightlessness of water. There’s an interesting sequence where Taris stops instructing and just swims letting his body contort in provocative poses and creating bubble patterns underwater that seem to really fascinate the director. It’s a brief film but contains moments of sheer beauty and utter joy.
Vigo’s first narrative film is Zéro de conduite, a simple story of a boys’ school insurrection filmed thirty-five years before Lindsay Anderson made his if…. Three troublemakers (Constantin Kelber, Gilbert Pruchon, Louis Lefebvre) spend the opening days of their return to school trying to convert sensitive, quiet Tabard (Gérard de Bédarieux), and the combination of their teasing with some of the harsher schoolmasters’ words and deeds succeed in altering his view of school and the world. The atmosphere of a boys school is beautifully captured, and the different teachers like easy-going, friendly Huguet (Jean Dasté), the sneaky thieving Beanpole (Blanchar), and the dictatorial Perrain (Robert Le Flon) illustrate that school comedies today aren’t actually so different from those of eighty years ago (even down to a food fight in the refectory). Again, Vigo uses lots of camera tricks (a pillow fight with slow motion feathers raining down on the boys is breathtaking) to move the brief (forty-four minutes) narrative along, and while the images don’t have the subsequent force of true anarchy, it’s an interesting first attempt at it.
L’Atalante is by far the most substantial of the four offerings, a feature-length comedy-drama about newlyweds (Jean Dasté, Dita Parlo) trying to combine their honeymoon trip on board his barge the L’Atalante (he’s the skipper) with cargo that they’re taking to Paris. The bride is naiveté personified, and the groom is jealous if another man even glances at his new wife including his elderly first mate Père Jules (Michel Simon) who dazzles her with the bric-a-brac in his cabin collected over decades of sea life. Things really take a serious turn when the wife Juliette becomes smitten with a handsome showman (Gilles Margaritis) at a cabaret they visit in Paris leading Jean to abandon her in the City of Lights. Though the last third of the film is serious and somewhat depressing with a very conventional ending, the opening two-thirds is lively and hilarious with running gags about Jules’ cat fancying and the two stars (he suggests a broodingly handsome Jeremy Northam, she a china doll-like Rochelle Hudson) making for very attractive leading players. Michel Simon walks away with the movie as the sad clown Jules, even wrestling with himself at one point in a very funny sequence and showing off his tattoos to the hypnotized Juliette. Vigo has a field day letting his camera explore every inch of these interesting personalities, and the magic sequence in the Paris nightclub is peerless in its captivating simplicity.
all films – 3/5
Due to their age and low budgets, none of the films look as good as the best of the French 1930s films. All have black and white scratches, some amount of damage or spotting, and sharpness that comes and goes erratically. Black levels are only fair at the best of times, and overall the grayscale is rather limited. Still, when certain key scenes come into focus, the results can be amazingly sharp and clear, but none of the films offer consistent clarity. The white subtitles are always easy to read. A propos de Nice is divided into 4 chapters. Zero de conduite has 11 chapters while L’Atalante has 17 chapters.
all films – 3/5
Each film has a PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) audio track. Due to the age and primitive recording standards of the time, the audio tracks all sport rather tinny sound. Hiss has been dealt with as best as Criterion can, but it’s still present in every soundtrack. There is also some flutter on the track for Zéro de conduite. L’Atalante features a combination of direct recording and post dubbing (the others are all either silent with music or post synched) that mixes rather uneasily. Still, this is likely the best these films will ever sound, and they’re certainly above average for films of their era.
Each of the four films contains an audio commentary by Jean Vigo expert Michael Temple. He brings historical perspective along with rational cinematic analysis into his comments and make all four tracks well worth hearing.
Unless otherwise noted, the bonus featurettes are presented in 1080i.
A propos de Nice contains a different edit of the film which runs 21 ½ minutes and is silent.
A tribute to Jean Vigo by Michael Gondry is a ¾-minute animated short featuring a couple of select images from his work.
“Cinéastes de notre temps” is a 1964 episode of the French TV series in which friends and co-workers of Jean Virgo (including the three top stars of L’Atalante) are interviewed and discuss his life and his work. Clips from his films also enliven this 98 ¼-minute program.
Filmmakers Francois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer do an in-depth discussion on the significance and influence of Vigo’s L’Atalante in this 1968 television program which runs for 18 ¼ minutes.
Les voyages de L’Atalante is a 2001 documentary on the numerous edits made to the film before its initial release and the scavenger hunt that took place over almost sixty years to put the film back together. There are plenty of before-and-after sequences showing scenes that went out in general release which are then compared to other finds and restored scenes. This fascinating piece, which shows there is another film besides The Magnificent Ambersons, A Star Is Born, and Brazil that suffered humiliating edits by its studio. It runs 40 minutes.
Filmmaker Otar Iosseliani discusses the importance of L’Atalante on his own work and then offers a critique of the movie in this 20-minute interview conducted in 2001.
The enclosed 45-page booklet contains casts and crews for the four films in the set, some stills from each of the movies, and four detailed essays on the films and their maker by filmmaker Michael Almereyda, author Robert Polito, writer B. Kite, and educator Luc Sante.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
Unusual movies made by a filmmaker in his embryonic stages of a promising career cut short by tuberculosis, The Complete Jean Vigo offers the director’s entire slate of work in one handy package with scintillating bonus features which greatly extend one’s understanding of the importance of this unheralded French filmmaker who died much too soon.