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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Let's Get Critical: Part III

Late last month, we launched Let's Get Critical—a three-part series highlighting film criticism generated as part of BAM Education's Young Film Critics program. After the jump, immerse yourself in our final installment, featuring writing on 1933's Zéro de conduite.

Photo: Photofest

Zéro de conduite (1933)
Directed by Jean Vigo

Ankita KC, Junior
Photo: Mariel Kon
Robert F. Wagner High School

Zéro de conduite, directed by the late Jean Vigo, is a great film about breaking free from the restraints of power. The film takes place in a boarding school reminiscent of Vigo’s own boarding school as a young boy. His anarchist viewpoint is also present in the film. It presents the school and its system as an oppressive and repressive force on the children. The film focuses on four particularly rebellious boys. The film does an excellent job of portraying social commentary in a simple light, using the schoolchildren revolting against their strict teachers to represent a larger anarchist message. It is no wonder that it was banned in France upon its release.

The camera angles in the movie are all different and some are odd. In some parts, the teachers are shown from a higher angle up, perhaps indicating that they have a superiority over the children (who have to look up at them). Among the teachers, there is one who is sympathetic to the children: Huguet, who plays around with the children and even draws a comic on the board. Huguet gets scolded by the other teachers for his frolics with the children. The children are obedient on the surface, but their rebellious nature appears when the teachers aren’t looking. There are many intriguing scenes in the movie, like when the instructor takes all the children on walk. The boys lose him, and they walk around the neighborhood freely without the instructor leading. The sequence is interesting in that they are happily walking around and seem to avoid him, like playing cat and mouse. The children then rejoin their instructor later on and the instructor seems to not have noticed their absence. Perhaps this shows that once someone gets power as leader, they are blinded and believe that they’re being followed (quite literally in this case) even though their subjects have already rebelled and left.

Photo: Photofest
Christall Pierre, Senior
Saint Saviour High School

Many directors aren't brave enough to take a gamble and do the unexpected. Jean Vigo bravely took that chance with his movie Zéro de conduite. The film is set in a French boarding school. Vigo worked on a tight budget, so the scenes mainly took place in a classroom, a schoolyard, and a bedroom where all the boys slept. At the school, the adults are portrayed as being selfish, insecure, and mean. For example, the dwarf-sized representation of the principal: Authority figures are predominantly seen as tall men who command attention, but Vigo mocked authority by stating that authority figures are just like children. Many people can relate to the message that there are some corrupt authority figures that cause us outrage in our daily lives. This movie is relevant because people of all ages have authority figures in their lives and have to deal with whatever repercussions their actions cause.

A vital scene in Zéro de conduite is when the boys refuse their meal of beans because they're tired of eating the same meal instead of being able to have some choice. After that scene, the boys plot to rebel in their shared bedroom and a pillow fight breaks out. During the pillow fight the camera captures the fight at different angles, but what stood out was the part when the effect of slow motion was used as the feathers fall and one of the boys back flips into a chair that some of the boys proudly carry outside of the room, while the rest carry makeshift flags. The boys then tie a sleeping teacher to his bed and put one of their flags there, symbolizing that they’ve conquered and are taking over. 

I strongly believe that Vigo knew that his film was far ahead of his time. Vigo knew that most people had their own issues with authority figures. It’s an issue that transcends time. What will we do to combat this in the 21st century?

Photo: Mariel Kon
Roger Carucci, Freshman
Edward R. Murrow High School

Zéro de conduite (1933) was made by anarchist director Jean Vigo. It's about rebellious school children in an oppressive French boarding school. Being such a beautiful film, it is tragic that it has mostly been forgotten, only known to directors or critics. With a simple, yet engaging plot, incredible cinematography, and comical themes, this film deserves much more than it's given.

Zéro de conduite delivers a funny, engaging, and interesting story of rebellious school children. Vigo could have copped out and just made another slapstick, run-of-the-mill comedy about children messing with their teachers, but instead he made it funny and realistic at the same time. The three teachers are great plot points that show how bad the school is. The movie doesn't tell us that the school is oppressive and all the teachers shouldn't be teachers; instead, it shows it and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions, as every movie should do.

Zéro de conduite has incredible cinematography. It is so clear and simple, making the movie feel clean, allowing Vigo to do all sorts of other things. For example, there is the famous slow-motion pillow fight: pillows explode, feathers fly out, and Vigo shows the boys marching in slow- motion. It may possibly be my favorite cinema moment of all time.

Zéro de conduite truly is a cinema masterpiece that has been lost as time went by. At their best, movies are about people and stories, and in some rare cases, movies can approach poetry. Zéro de conduite is one of those rare films.

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