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This is a gloriously beautiful film. Jean Vigo was an immense talent born
ahead of his time. Seeing this made me want to see the real works of Vigo.
was extremely touched by the love share between Jean an his wife, Lydu.
Frain and Bohringer (sp?) have such a natural chemistry as the ill-fated
famous couple. It breaks my heart to know how he/they suffered. Yes, he
extremely ill with tuberculosis...and realized he had limited time to
realize his dreams as a film-maker, but the true suffering he endured came
in the form of the French censors, who banned or butched his work based
on the fact that his father was considered a traitor and an
Jean suffered by association.
Despite his and Lydu's terminal illness, and the prejudices they had to live with, their's is really an uplifting story of undying love, faith, and committment to each other. They lived fuller lives than most of us ever will, experienced truer love than most of us will ever be fortunate enough to have, and realized more of their dreams and goals than most of us could ever hope to. And, Jean did all of this in a life that lasted only 29 years. This movie brings to vivid life the love, losses, tragedies, and triumphs of Jean Vigo and his beautiful wife. It emphasises how important they were to one another.
All in all, this is a true gem of a movie. Beautiful and touching love story, endearing characters through out, excellent and extremely dedicated cast, superbly shot with gorgeous scenery...a film that breaks your heart, but it also lifts you up as well...because of the power of love and the power of believing in one's self. My only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Vigo actually working on his films. They did show this, but more of it would have been very welcome.
Anyway, if you love love stories, or are a fan of Jean Vigo, see this film. You'll adore it.
This excellent feature film by Julien Temple was made, according to a tribute made by him in the end credits, because 'Jean Vigo first opened my eyes to the possibilities of cinema'. Jean Vigo, who died at the age of only 29 of tuberculosis, made four films in his short life, the first two being minor ones but the other two are considered major classics of the screen. They are ZÉRO DE CONDUITE (1933, a film of 44 minutes) and L'ATALANTE (1934, the year Vigo died just before finishing the film). The latter film is 89 minutes long but was originally released in France with 20 minutes cut out of it; the version existing today was pieced together some years ago from fragments, as Vigo did not live to complete the editing himself. The name l'Atalante is that of a river and canal barge, on which the action takes place. Both of these films have had a seminal influence of the majority of serious Western filmmakers and are revered by historians of the cinema. Julien Temple's film tells the story of the tempestuous life of Vigo, his struggles with health and lack of money, and his romance and marriage with Elizabeth Lezinska, a Polish girl whom he met in a tuberculosis sanatorium in Switzerland. She survived him by only four years, as she too had the fatal disease. They had a daughter, Luce Vigo, who died on February 12 of this year in Paris, who acted in two films, appeared in three others as herself, and was a film critic. This film has very good casting. Lezinska is played by the brilliant French actress Romane Bohringer, forever dear to the hearts of all true cinéastes for her magnificent performance in L'APPARTEMENT (THE APARTMENT, 1996, see my review). It was Bohringer, with her mysterious manner and eyes that could be saying anything, one never knows quite what because dark thoughts are always rushing across them, who largely made that film work so well. Here she does the same. Vigo is played by James Frain, and the chemistry between the two is excellent. His performance is also superb. He vacillates wildly between calm reason and manic fits of despair, anger, and creative fever, as he falls in and out of illness, wheelchairs, sickbeds, interspersed with bouts of frenetic and impassioned exertions. The film is a roller-coaster ride of emotions and desperate anxieties as the two hopelessly doomed lovers fight to make films, fight with each other, fight the demons of his parents, fight the disapproval of her parents, and struggle to survive with no money. The fact that Vigo was able to make any films at all was a miracle of fanatical determination and a triumph against impossible odds. Julien Temple chose to make this film about his hero so that the world would know what it takes sometimes to achieve greatness. Now we know out of just what sort of nightmare environment those two classic films arose. From the pits of misery heavenly angels can sometimes arise, though it must be admitted that such occasions are rare, as few of us are strong enough for that. This film (copyrighted 1997 according to the print) was shown on Channel Four in Britain in 1999 and had a modest release on both video tape and DVD, but I do not know whether it was ever cinematically distributed. I believe that few people have seen it. And that is, as the Americans say, 'a cryin' shame'.
Sighhh.....I continue to be dismayed that "Vigo" never did better box office wise, and that more than a couple of critics seemed lukewarm or worse to it. I suppose I did have a positive "chick-flick" reaction to it as a love story. But I only like well done chick flicks!
I think that part of the problem is the pre-set attitudes mainstream film people may have towards Julian Temple. I've seen the documentary he did on the Sex Pistols, and "Absolute Beginners". They both left me scratching my head a bit. I love people who have range and take risks. He is CERTAINLY not a mainstream filmmaker! And yet, "Vigo" is an almost classically made thing of beauty. The cinematography was excellent and at times breathtaking, while never taking away from the flow of action. I was delightfully surprised by that, besides just being blown away by the performances of James Frain and Romane Bohringer especially. They were very well supported by the rest of the cast.
And this nonsense over English actors playing French characters! I've read more than one comment about that. Have you people NO imagination? If so, then stick to the History Channel or read only encyclopedias! Actors "act", they are not all doing reconstructed scenes for "Americas Most Wanted". These actors did a wonderful job at telling their story.
I really think that critics may have gone into this film with their own preconceived notions as to what needed to be said about Jean Vigo (as one may do with any bio-pic), and believed that Julian Temple couldn't deliver it. On it's own, disregarding a campaign FOR something comprehensive on Jean Vigo's career or AGAINST Julian Temple's, I believe that this film is a beautiful love story and a well told tale of a short life full of passion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've heard confusingly mixed things about this film, and after seeing
it for myself I realise why some people like it. Julien Temple et al
made it with obvious passion and love. True romantics, who prize
passion above all things, will be dazzled by this movie. However, to my
regret I feel that Vigo: A Passion for Life has very little actual
Possibly it didn't have enough content. Possibly the writers loved the real Jean Vigo too much to add more fiction to his life. It needed more twists and turns, more story. As it stands, the movie would have been much better if it had been half the length of a feature film. Even in 1998 film festivals would have accepted a 40-minute short film. It would have been much stronger.
Another problem was the melodrama. Theatrics is such a dangerous road to go down when you're trying to be heartfelt. If you're telling an amorous tale of passion, love and death, it's a distinctly bad thing when your audience sighs "oh for God's sake, stop it" upon seeing one of the characters storm dramatically out of the room for the millionth time.
Over-the-top is amateurish. That's why it's called OVER the top. There's nothing wrong with a bit of theatrics, but they should be used infrequently and to great effect, as opposed to in every single scene.
If it was a tribute to flailing French drama then fine. But do it in French.
In a film desperate to make every scene affecting and meaningful, only two stood out for me as at all worthwhile. In one, Vigo speaks to his little daughter over the phone, and claps his hand over the mouthpiece every few seconds to hide the hoarseness of his dying breaths from her. And in a surprisingly underplayed death scene, Vigo and his wife Lydu lie asleep in bed, her hand resting on his chest to feel it rising and falling with every breath. He dies subtly, like he's been punctured and is finally out of breath, and Lydu's hand jolts awake upon his dead chest. Seconds ago they could have said their goodbyes.
The acting is quite good. The dark and dashing James Frain has ambled down a slightly odd career path since Vigo, and here, youthful and fresh-faced (and inexplicably signing up for full-frontal nudity), he plays the infamous French filmmaker. I think Frain had quite a muddled character to work with. Jean Vigo was a real man, but he's also a character. The writers didn't build the character well. His key trait is evidently supposed to be passion, but he didn't seem any more passionate than the next man. If I hadn't seen his real films, only this one, I would ask what's so special about Jean Vigo.
Lydu wasn't passionate either. She was hysterical. She was all over the place with her feelings, she appeared to be in love with another man, and she did nothing whatsoever to deserve Vigo. One of the reviews claims she can get away with it because she's a "French beauty". I don't want to cause offence I only bring this up because it seemed to have a part to play in the actual story but the character of Lydu was, to my eyes, very unattractive indeed, especially (ironically) as a bride. "His beautiful wife" is part of the movie's pitch. Even if I did find Lydu beautiful, I wouldn't think it excused her mad behaviour.
Vigo: A Passion for Life had some exquisite, dappled shots, a couple of original and touching scenes, and a strong lead actor. And I thought the TB hospital was fascinating. But the writers let the side down. I could feel the love the makers had for Jean Vigo. But the story didn't hold its own: it didn't have a CORE. Was it passion? Love? Sanity? Illness? Mortality? Voice? Adulthood? It was none of those things really. The core was just... biography. Sometimes, to write a movie, you need to get a good night's sleep, put a pin in your frenzied adoration, and work on structure, plot, and something that will get your movie a fanbase of more than a small handful of besotted romantics.
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