Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct is often cited as a landmark work and as an inspiration to several other films, including the future list films If… and The 400 Blows. Plus, the film itself is only barely technically above feature length, which is 40 minutes, so I wasn’t too inclined to think badly of my excursion into it. Good thing, too; not only was this a nice short bit of fun, it was also pretty entertaining; perhaps because it was so short.
Vigo’s featurette is a tale of schoolboy oppression and rebellion; four boys at a rigid and totalitarian boarding school, who are often singled out for detention, decide to rise up and revolt against the establishment, though this revolution doesn’t end up being what one might expect. What makes this such a standout isn’t just its length and director; it’s the innovation that is often attributed to Vigo and this short. Vigo does often play around with the camera and with the medium of film itself, with unorthodox shots and camera movements, some spliced-in animation, and even use of slow-motion in the climactic scene. The whole thing, as a result, comes across as very surrealistic, but it’s not a surrealist film. It’s surrealistic to the very nature of film itself, which is about as meta as one can get considering this was made in 1933. And don’t expect the story to be conventional either; Vigo has way too much fun with expectations for that.
This once again seems to be another allegory film; the repressive school being a metaphor for the French government of the time, causing this film to be banned in France until 1946. Well, chalk up another list qualification checkbox this film marks off. This was a nice little experiment, and again, I’m willing to admit that I probably liked it because it was so short, but I still liked it, dammit. I don’t know if that can really be considered a recommendation, but you certainly don’t have a lot to lose giving this a shot.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10