Zero For Conduct (1933) Director: Jean Vigo
Zero For Conduct is a strange film -appropriate for the catalogue of French cinema. It is a short vignette lasting about 41 minutes. It tells the anarchic story of children revolting against their un-amusing and midget boarding school headmaster during commencement. The film was initially shown in 1933, but was subsequently banned until 1945 in France for the war. The title refers to the mark a teacher threatens to give the children for their behavior. Numerous later directors, mostly French, have paid homage to this film. Vigo and his wife were in poor health before and during the film, luckily they befriended a wealthy benefactor who financed the film.
The film was shot over a couple months between 1932 and 1933, and it used all amateur actors from off the street. Zero For Conduct is not a polemic nor a commentary, but rather it is an expression, or a glimpse, of the revolutionary spirit. It had a tremendous influence of François Truffaut’s 400 Blows (1959).
Jean Vigo spent much of his childhood in guarded anonymity as a result of the infamous reputation of his anarchist father, Eugène Vigo. His father publicly wore the pseudonym “Miguel Almereyda,” an anagram for “this is shit.” He was also the co-founder and lead writer of Le Bonnet Rouge, a French satirical anarchist publication. Jean Vigo was only twelve years old when his father was strangled by his bootlaces in prison in 1917. The official report called it a suicide but the autopsy revealed it to be a homicide.
Vigo spent much of his childhood ill and living with various relatives. He contracted tuberculosis at a young age and worked on various film sets, including briefly on Abel Gance’s Napoleon. After Vigo borrowed money and began making his own films, he was credited with inspiring the Poetic Realism of the ’30s and the French New Wave of the ’50s. Vigo died of tuberculosis at age 29 in 1934.