Zero for Conduct (Jean Vigo, 1933, France)

Zero for Conduct is a 1933 featurette directed by Jean Vigo. Vigo, whose life was cut short at age 29 by tuberculosis in 1934, is one of the several filmmakers whose reputation has far outlived their death. Zero for Conduct and L'Atalante (1934) are now considered among the greatest films of all time. They were resurrected largely by the French New Wave, which viewed Vigo's anti-authoritarian stance as an inspiration. Zero for Conduct was of particular influence on Francois Truffaut, whose own tale of French schoolboys was influenced by it. One can also see the influence of Zero for Conduct in the counterculture of the 1960s, particularly Lindsay Anderson's 1968 film about a rebellion at a British school - if...

Vigo's film, comprised primarily of non-actors and shot on a meager budget of 200,000 francs, was based on Vigo's own experiences. The film tells the story of four boys at a French boarding school who plot a revolt against their teachers and the school itself. Despite the film's technical limitations, Vigo does display some interesting stylistic flourishes - notably a pillow fight scene that is shot in slow motion. There are other surreal aspects, such as casting a dwarf in the role of the schoolmaster. Compositionally Vigo was also quite inventive, again overcoming many of the limitations. 

Structurally, at a mere 40 minutes, the film has a strange flow. The narrative has a disjointed quality with scenes seeming to stand on their own. However, this playfulness is mirrored by the overall intention of the film. The film's truly enjoyable part is its finale, wherein the boys stage their rebellion. One can see from this scene why the film was so controversial when it was released, and why it still influences filmmakers today. Vigo was certainly ahead of his time in many aspects.



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