The next stop in DK Canada’s brilliant, and highly enjoyable, The Movie Book is a collection of films by French auteur Jean Vigo. The first one highlighted and serving as gateway to the rest of his work is the short, Zero de Conduite, or Zero for Conduct.
Running at a brisk forty-one minutes the film wastes no time on preamble and jumps right in as we join students returning from their holidays to their boarding school. We meet, briefly, Caussat (Louis Lefebvre) and Bruel (Constantin Goldstein-Kehler), amongst others.
They are unhappy to be returning to school, and chafe against every perceived indignity thrust upon them bu the school’s authorities. In fact all of the children seem to regularly get a zero for conduct, and end up in detention.
Tired of it all, the group of ragged students decide to lead a revolution (started off by a pillow fight) against their academic overseers during the school’s celebration day.
The film is short and feels somewhat disjointed, jumping from moment to moment, giving us glimpses of an environment we all recognise on some level. Unfortunately, we aren’t given time to familiarise ourselves with any of the kids, or their teachers to actually feel connected to any of them.
When the film was released it was considered daring and edgy, and was banned by the French government until after World War II because of how it was perceived as seeing class structure, and government.
I think perhaps they were reading too much into it, and it was in fact just a tale, somewhat influenced by Vigo’s own academic career, and gave us glimpses, sometimes influenced by nostalgia and gentle humour, into the life of a French youth.
And while most of the teachers, headmasters, and prefects seem aloof, there’s always that one teacher that connects with the students – in this case it is Huguet (Jean Daste). He plays with the children, amuses them with his Chaplin imitation and, very oddly, lets them tag along when he sees a woman who catches his eye.
While it is now difficult to see what all the hub-bub was about at the time, viewing this short does give us a glimpse into what was going on in film, with the sense of surrealism and documentary style blending to tell a new kind of story, and Vigo happily played within that realm.
This is one of those films that I would never have decided to watch if it hadn’t been on a list or recommended to me, and yet now having seen it, I can easily say that my cinematic education continues. So once again, DK Books’ The Movie Book proves itself invaluable again.
Pick one up and find something amazing to watch!