Review: The Complete Jean Vigo DVD

The Complete Jean Vigo DVD coverSTUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Jean Vigo | CAST: Michel Simon, Dita Parlo, Jean Dasté, Gilles Margaritis, Robert le Flon, Delphin
RELEASE DATE: 8/30/11 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $39.95
BONUSES: documentary about Vigo, Truffaut interview, Michel Gondry cartoon, Otar Iosseliani interview, restoration documentary, commentaries by author Michael Temple
SPECS: NR | 161 min. | Foreign language dramas | 1.33:1 fullscreen | mono | French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio  | Video  | Overall

L'Atalante movie scene

The 1934 film L'Atalante is one of the selections in Criterion's The Complete Jean Vigo.

Nearly 70 years later, French filmmaker Jean Vigo’s premature death at 29 still qualifies as one of cinema’s greatest losses. Vigo’s very small body of work — three short films and one feature — is wonderfully inspired and innovative, to the extent that he has remained a seminal influence on filmmakers who blend naturalism and poetic fantasy in their work.

Criterion’s two-disc The Complete Jean Vigo set collects all of Vigo’s movies and a valuable trove of documentary footage that includes a very detailed 98-minute documentary made by Jacques Rozier in 1964 for French TV.

Also included are reflections on Vigo’s work by the filmmakers who were greatly influenced by him, among them Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows), Georgian director Otar Iosseliani (Monday Morning) and Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), whose contribution is a short cartoon about Vigo’s feature film L’Atalante.

The latest, pristine restoration of L’Atalante (1934) is the DVD set’s centerpiece. The classic film stands as one of the most romantic movies of all time, and its beauty is undiminished no matter how many times one views it.

The story of a young married couple’s first troubled weeks aboard a canal barge was a direct influence on the French New Wave. It has been cited in various later works (including Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris and Leos Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge) and remains a touchstone for movie love stories.

Vigo’s other widely influential work, the short film Zero for Conduct (1933), is present in equally pristine shape and is best analyzed by Truffaut in a 1960s TV clip where he is interviewed by his friend and “older brother” Eric Rohmer (My Night at Maud’s). Truffaut testifies to the power of the film and its influence on his work, as well as Vigo’s special secret of blending realism and the avant-garde.

For those who want to delve deeply, the set also contains a documentary by noted critic Bernard Eisenschitz that includes unseen moments from the rushes of L’Atalante.

One quickly gets the impression while absorbing the contents of this authoritative set, which also has helpful written materials in its booklet, that a college student could easily assemble a term paper on Vigo from the detailed and thorough analyses here.


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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”