This article, published a few years after the US release of “Zéro de Conduite,” provides a valuable historical account of Vigo as a person and director, written by a close friend and colleague. It quickly mentions that Vigo, like all geniuses, was shunned by mainstream society before being (posthumously) lauded for his brilliance. Zilzer argues that Vigo’s life of hardship influences his films by creating a “poetry of realism” on the screen, thus taking a much less political and more aesthetic analysis of his work. He mentions how Vigo’s work was never technically perfect, but never suffered from that fact either. He then summarizes Vigo’s political heritage, all the way back to his anti-war grandfather, who was assassinated under similar circumstances as his father was. He describes Vigo’s character as a blend of the energy of his lineage with the “carefreeness” of his Basque relatives in Pyrenees. After discussing the start of his film career, Zilzer makes an insightful observation that, while filming a documentary of Nice, Vigo shot the “boredom of the rich and the enthusiasm of the poor.” Zilzer then describes the public reception of “Zéro de Conduite,” which was controversial to say the least. In fact, during the screening the lights were turned on several times and a few open fights broke out. Most interestingly, the author points out that although parts of the film could be “called surrealistic…Vigo was never considered a surrealist-his search for realism was too deep.” The article ends with a lengthy description of the production of Vigo’s final film, “L’Atalante.”
Much of this article is useful for my thesis, particularly the personal recollection and historical accuracy it presents. By giving a more detailed description of his heritage, he solidifies the notion that Vigo’s works are strongly motivated by his anti-authoritarian upbringing. However, his description of the film as poetic realism (as opposed to surrealism) challenges my thesis. I would argue, however, that poetic realism was a tendency rather than a movement, as many others have said, and that as such, his surrealistic touches simply add to the poetry of the realism that he is portraying, by focusing on school administration from children’s eyes. I believe that “Zéro de Conduite” achieved Vigo’s search for realism by portraying more than simply superficial aspects of the oppression in school; his use of the surreal allows the audience to empathize with the children in a way that enhances their reality, ultimately creating an absolutely-realistic film, by opening up new perspectives on a recognizable institution.
full citation: Zilzer, Gyula. "Remembrances of Jean Vigo." Hollywood Quarterly. Vol. 3, No. 2 (Winter, 1947-1948). 125-128. University of California Press. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1209357>.