Jean Vigo

Jean Vigo (French: [vigo]; 26 April 1905 5 October 1934) was a French film director who helped establish poetic realism in film in the 1930s. His work influenced French New Wave cinema of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Jean Vigo
Born(1905-04-26)26 April 1905
Paris, France
Died5 October 1934(1934-10-05) (aged 29)
Paris, France
OccupationFilm director
Years active1930–1934


Vigo was born to Emily Clero and the militant anarchist Miguel Almereyda. Much of Vigo's early life was spent on the run with his parents. His father was imprisoned and murdered in Fresnes Prison on 13 August 1917. Some speculated that Almereyda was hushed up by order of extreme Socialist politicians Louis-Jean Malvy and Joseph Caillaux, men later punished for war-time treason.[1] The young Vigo was subsequently sent to boarding school under an assumed name, Jean Sales, to conceal his identity.

Vigo was married and had a daughter, Luce Vigo, a film critic, in 1931. He died in 1934 of complications from tuberculosis, which he had contracted eight years earlier.


Vigo is noted for two films that affected the future development of both French and world cinema: Zero for Conduct (1933) and L'Atalante (1934). Zero for Conduct was approvingly described by critic David Thomson as "forty-four minutes of sustained, if roughly shot anarchic crescendo." L'Atalante was Vigo's only full-length feature. The simple story of a newly married couple splitting and reuniting effortlessly merges rough, naturalistic filmmaking with shimmering, dreamlike sequences and effects. Thomson described the result as "not so much a masterpiece as a definition of cinema, and thus a film that stands resolutely apart from the great body of films."

His career began with two other films: À propos de Nice ("about Nice," 1930), a subversive silent film inspired by Soviet newsreels which considered social inequity in the resort town of Nice; and Jean Taris, Swimming Champion (1931), a study of swimmer Jean Taris. None of his four films were financial successes; at one point, with his and his wife's health suffering, Vigo was forced to sell his camera.

Zero for Conduct was banned by the French government until after the war, and L'Atalante was mutilated by its distributor. By this point, Vigo was too ill to strenuously fight the matter. Both films have outlived their detractors; L'Atalante was chosen as the 10th-greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound's 1962 poll, and as the 6th-best in its 1992 poll. In the late 1980s a 1934 copy of L'Atalante was found in the British National Film and Television Archive, and became a key element in the restoration of the film to its original version.[2]

Writing on Vigo's career in The New York Times, film critic Andrew Johnston stated: "The ranks of the great film directors are short on Keatses and Shelleys, young artists cut off in their prime, leaving behind a handful of great works that suggest what might have been. But one who qualifies is Jean Vigo, the French director who died of tuberculosis at age 29 in 1934."[3]



2011 Parajanov-Vartanov Institute Award posthumously honored Jean Vigo [4][5] for Zero for Conduct and was presented to his daughter and French film critic Luce Vigo. Martin Scorsese wrote a letter for the occasion[6] with praise for Vigo, Sergei Parajanov and Mikhail Vartanov, all of whom struggled with heavy censorship.


  • The Prix Jean Vigo is an annual award given since 1951 to outstanding French film directors.
  • The Jean Vigo Award is an annual prize given to Best Director at the Navarra Int'l Documentary Film Festival in Spain.
  • Vigo: Passion for Life, a 1998 British biopic about Jean Vigo, starring James Frain.


  1. Gomes, Paulo Emílio Salles (1971). Jean Vigo. University of California Press. pp. 27–29. ISBN 978-0-520-01676-7.
  2. Temple, Michael (2005). Jean Vigo. Manchester University Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-7190-5632-1.
  3. The New York Times, 11 June 2000
  6. Archived 22 October 2014 at Archive-It

Further reading

  • Michael Temple, Jean Vigo. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005.
  • David Weir, Jean Vigo and the Anarchist Eye. Atlanta: On Our Own Authority! Publishing, 2014.

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