Jean Vigo, L'Atalante, and the Promise of Social Cinema

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
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The four films Jean Vigo made between 1930 and 1934 bridged transitions from silent to sound formats and from avant-garde experiments to what he called a social cinema grounded in a documented point of view. This article studies traces of this social cinema in Vigo's 1930 documentary A propos de Nice (Regarding Nice) and his 1934 feature L'Atalante (1934). Links to Parisian surrealism and to leftwing anarchism marked these films as inspiration for postwar filmmakers and critics including André Bazin, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, and Chris Marker. The government censorship imposed on his Zéro de conduite (Zero for Conduct, 1933) was a test case for similar suppression of postwar films by Resnais, Marker, and René Vautier. Ongoing myths surrounding Vigo and his work persist in the forms of a film prize and research institute, both of which bear his name.