Death in Hollywood: Vigo, Jean (French Director of L’Atalante), Dead at 29 (Tubercolosis)

Jean Vigo (French: April 26, 1905–October 5, 1934) was a French film director who helped establish poetic realism in film in the 1930s. His work influenced French New Wave cinema of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Vigo was born to Emily Clero and the militant anarchist Miguel Almereyda. Much of Vigo’s early life was spent on the run with his parents. His father was imprisoned and murdered in Fresnes Prison on 13 August 1917, when Vigo was 12. Some speculated that Almereyda was persecutedby Radical politicians Louis Malvy and Joseph Caillaux, who were later punished for war-time treason.

The young Vigo was subsequently sent to boarding school under assumed name, Jean Sales, to conceal his identity.

Vigo was married and had a daughter, Luce Vigo, a film critic, in 1931. He died in 1934 of complications from tuberculosis, which he had contracted 8 years earlier.

Vigo is noted for two films that affected the future development of both French and world cinema: Zero for Conduct (1933) and L’Atalante (1934). Zero for Conduct, despite running time of only 43 minutes, was powerful evocation of anarchic in schools.

L’Atalante, Vigo’s only full-length feature, is recognized as his masterpiece. The simple story of a newly married couple splitting and reuniting effortlessly merges unpolished, naturalistic filmmaking with shimmering, dreamlike sequences and effects.

His career began with À propos de Nice (“about Nice,” 1930), a subversive silent film that considered social inequity in the resort town of Nice and was inspired by Soviet newsreels; and Jean Taris, Swimming Champion (1931), a study of swimmer Jean Taris.

None of his four films were financial successes; at one point, due to health problems, Vigo was forced to sell his camera.

Zero for Conduct was banned by the French government until after the war, and L’Atalante was mutilated by its distributor.

Vigo was too ill to fight the matter, but vindicated him as both films have outlived their detractors.

L’Atalante: One of Greatest Film Ever Made

L’Atalante was chosen as the 10th-greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound’s 1962 poll, and as the 6th-best in its 1992 poll.

In the late 1980s a 1934 copy of L’Atalante was found in the British National Film and Television Archive, and became a key element in the restoration of the film to its original version.

Writing on Vigo’s career in The NY. Times, Andrew Johnston stated: “The ranks of the great film directors are short on Keatses and Shelleys, young artists cut off in their prime, leaving behind a handful of great works that suggest what might have been. But one who qualifies is Jean Vigo, the French director who died of tuberculosis at age 29 in 1934.”


1930: À propos de Nice
1931: La Natation par Jean Taris or Taris, roi de l’eau
1933: Zéro de conduite
1934: L’Atalante

2011 Parajanov-Vartanov Institute Award posthumously honored Vigo for Zero for Conduct, presented to his daughter and French film critic Luce Vigo. Martin Scorsese wrote a letter for the occasion, praising Vigo, Sergei Parajanov and Mikhail Vartanov, all of whom struggled with heavy censorship.


The Prix Jean Vigo is annual award given since 1951 to outstanding French film directors.

The Jean Vigo Award is an annual prize given to Best Director at the Navarra Documentary Film Festival in Spain.
Jean Vigo, a biographical play about Vigo by Paulo Emilio Salles Gomez
Love’s A Revolution, stage adaptation of Gomez play by Chris Ward
Vigo: Passion for Life, a 1998 British biopic based on the Ward play, starring James Frain