Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jean Vigo: Zéro de conduite / Zero for Conduct

Finally got to see Jean Vigo's Zéro de conduite / Zero for Conduct (1933) in its forty-one minute entirety. This little black and white film has a wild and anarchic feel with surrealistic touches, as akin to the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup (1933) as to Luis Buñuel's (and Salvador Dalí's) L’Age d’or / The Golden Age (1930).

In Zéro de conduite, the basics are this: male students (boys) have to go back to school (a pretty seedy looking boarding school); what we see for most of the film is a ragged tug of war between students and "adults." This can be taken as a straight up power struggle, as delivered in many other stories set in boarding schools, orphanages, mental institutions, prisons and POW camps. Indeed, there is a whole cluster of films around that time -- at the onset of "talkies" and the Great Depression, in between world wars -- that take a strong look at the existing social fabric and underlying conflicts in different settings. Let's not forget, for example, Leontine Sagan's Mädchen in Uniform (1931), Fritz Lang's M (1931) and G.W. Pabst's Westfront 1918/ Vier von der Infanterie (1930). But in Vigo's short film there are many weird additional touches -- striking surrealist imagery, for starters.   

What do we have here? These figures look almost like pieces off a Monopoly board, characters from a German Expressionist work or dolls lifted right out of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi. Look, there's even an empty chair for Clint Eastwood to scold. Surrealism lives!

Good God, what are these "little devils" up to now?

Today's Rune: Signals.


Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely weird, those dolls. That last image somehow makes me think of AC DC, must be the angus young schoolboy outfit thing.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I always think I know a bit about foreign films until I come here.

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks, y'all ~ yeah, that's so true re: AC DC. Funny.