Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Zero for Conduct (Vigo. 1933)

"But there is plot setting up for a revolt..."


How do you remember your childhood? More importantly, how do you remember school? If you were a happy child - then I recommend that you watch Brady Bunch reruns to find relatable adolescent characters. For the rest of us, we have the 1933 Jean Vigo classic, Zero for Conduct (Zéro de conduite). Originally banned in France for its depiction of youth rebellion, this is a short, light and fluffy film that did little more than serve its purpose for a viewer.

Zéro de conduite is written and directed by Jean Vigo. As a director, Vigo was not unfamiliar with controversies. This picture was banned in France until after WWII, and his masterpiece, L'Atalante (1934), was heavily edited before it could ever be released. Vigo was a founding father for the French "New Wave" age of cinematic expression, and he pioneered the concepts of poetic realism in his pictures. What confuses me is that Zéro de conduite does not fit inside either of those genre boundaries. It is a film that stays very lighthearted throughout the entire showing. The children are smart, organized and charming enough to act as interesting main characters - and there is never really any clear danger that hinders our desired outcome. It is very straightforward.

Zéro de conduite tells the story of students living at a boarding school under repressive rules. The title refers to an academic mark that they can receive for acting out of proper character. The boys see their teachers' actions as unfair, and they decided to plot revenge. Their school is about to have a large celebration that will have several important people in attendance. This is the students chance to get back at the administration.

Their idea of revenge? They stand on the rooftops and bombard the adults with everything from books to tin cans. This scene is particularly hilarious because of how the boys react to their success. This is a victory for the students. And though we never see the consequences - we do not really care. We are just as youthful and rebellious as the children. Bring on the punishment. We can take it.

Made in 1933, Zéro de conduite is a film that seems elementary even for its time. We know that film techniques were limited in these early years, but Vigo does not seem to even be interested in trying. This is a film that keeps everything very simple. The plot, direction, acting and scenery are all one dimensional. It is a very easy movie to follow. I would recommend this to anyone interested in French culture, or anyone looking for a different type of fluff-comedy. Deemed a masterpiece upon further review, Zéro de conduite is a film that I can take or leave. There is nothing bad about it, but it lacks any memorable value.

Zero for Conduct: C


My Next Film....Cat People (Tourneur. 1942)

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