Jean Vigo was twelve when his father, Miguel Almereyda, a left-wing journalist, died in prison. Inheriting his father’s anarchic spirit, Vigo selected cinema as his means for pointed, poetic social critique. The resourceful, playful, and spontaneous Vigo joined forces with cinematographer Boris Kaufman to realize his innovative vision. Kaufman commented, “He used everything around him: the sun, the moon, snow, night. Instead of fighting unfavorable conditions, he made them play a part.” But Vigo’s exceptional films proved too radical for his time. His first fiction film, Zero for Conduct, was censored and not shown publicly until 1945, and Vigo succumbed to tuberculosis shortly after his exquisite love story L’Atalante was re-edited, retitled, and encumbered with a new soundtrack in an attempt to make it more marketable. The persistence of Vigo’s legacy, despite the suppression and mutilation of his works, is a testament to the genius of these films, which presaged the poetic realism of the 1930s and Italian neorealism of the 1940s and inspired the French New Wave.
Generations of archivists have attempted to restore L’Atalante to its original state, but the recent discovery of new documentation and a 1934 pre-release print allowed a team led by historian Bernard Eisenschitz to come closer than ever before. New restorations of all four of Vigo’s films, along with rushes and outtakes from Zero for Conduct and L’Atalante, provide the opportunity to understand what Maximilian Le Cain described as Vigo’s “genius for bringing every idiosyncratic, beautiful and sometimes troubling detail . . . to life.”
Kate MacKay, Associate Film Curator