Vigo Passion for Life

UK/Japan/France/Spain 1997

Reviewed by Michael Temple


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

France, the 20s. The young aspiring film-maker Jean Vigo, who has adopted a pseudonym because of his dead father's reputation as an anarchist, finds himself incarcerated at a tuberculosis sanatorium in the South of France. There he meets Lydu Lozinska, a fellow sufferer, and they fall in love. Vigo persuades Lydu to leave the sanatorium and come with him to Paris, where he intends to make films. They get married and return to the south where he shoots his first film, À propos de Nice, and the couple have a baby. Both are still unwell, but Lydu carries on being a mother, while Jean pursues his art.

He makes Zéro de conduite but the film is banned. Although discouraged and increasingly sick, he agrees to make a feature-length love story called L'Atalante. His condition deteriorates during the filming and post-production. Finally, he learns the film has been recut and given a different soundtrack and even a new title. He dies, at the age of 29, but the handful of films he has made during his brief life are posthumously recognised as classics of French cinema.


"Jean Vigo opened my eyes to cinema. In telling my version of his story, I hope in some way to repay my debt to him and encourage others to find their own inspiration in his films." This message from director Julien Temple appears at the end of Vigo Passion for Life, his filmic homage-cum-biopic of the near-mythical French film-maker Jean Vigo, whose short life produced four wonderful films: Àpropos de Nice (1930), Taris ou la natation (1931), Zéro de conduite (1933), and L'Atalante (1934) and a no-less-wonderful cultural legacy of speculation and melancholy.

It is easy to sympathise with Temple's desire to express on screen his admiration for Vigo's life and work. Indeed, one could argue that Temple is nobly continuing a cinematic tradition of films inspired by Vigo which includes indirect tributes such as François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959) and, most famously, Lindsay Anderson's If.... (1968), a version of Vigo's Zéro de conduite reset in 60s Britain.

Given the intrinsically risky nature of the artistic biopic as a genre, one has to applaud Temple's having the good faith, even a certain courage, to take on such an enterprise. Unfortunately, one must also recognise that the resulting film, although absolutely faithful to the facts, is absolutely dreadful. Unlike Vigo's posthumous career, which has been a series of miraculous redemptions and restorations, Vigo Passion for Life leaves nothing to be salvaged. On a conceptual level, the film critically fails to engage with the fundamental myths and legacy of Jean Vigo, and churns out every imaginable Romantic cliché of the starving-artist-scribbling-and-spewing-in-garret variety.

This weakness extends to the film's political content, which is no more than an unthinking rehash of the hagiographic image of Vigo as a turn-of-the-century anarchist: "Imagine a world," opines fellow-anarchist Bonaventure (Jim Carter looking strangely like Kramer from Seinfeld), "in which teachers can learn from children, in which cobblers can be kings, in which parents can no longer tell children what to do!" - prompting a nearby child to cry: "Mummy, I want to be an anarchist!" The ill-conceived script ("based on the original play, Love's a Revolution by Chris Ward" according to the credits) is full of such rough-hewn gems. Indeed, the stagy awkwardness of much of the dialogue and action at length inspires compassion for the struggling actors, especially the French ones such as Romane Bohringer as Lydu who are condemned to speak in their native language-school accents while the remaining cast can use purest British luvvie-speak. There are even points in the film where the poor thespians seem to fumble their lines, but the show, for some unknown reason, is allowed to go on.

James Frain as Vigo does his best to cough and splutter his way through what is a very undemanding range of stock poses, essentially look-sick, look-inspired, look-angry, look-randy, look-sick again. The whole wretched project is so awful that even in those moments when Temple lovingly and faithfully recreates certain scenes from Vigo's films, transposing them into his own narrative, the effect on the informed spectator is more insulting than moving.

In the conclusive words of Jim Carter as Bonaventure: "There are times when failure is a mark of virtue. This is one of them." On this evidence, Temple must be a truly virtuous man.


Amanda Temple
Jeremy Bolt
Peter Ettedgui
Anne Devlin
Julien Temple
Based on the original play Love's a Revolution by Chris Ward
Freely adapted from the work of Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes Jean Vigo
Director of Photography
John Mathieson
Marie-Thérèse Boiché
Production Designer
Caroline Greville-Morris
Bingen Mendizabal
©Channel Four Television Corporation and Little Magic/DML/Amuse/ TV Tokyo
Production Companies
Channel Four Films presents in association with Little Magic Films an Impact Pictures/Nitrate Film/MACT production in association with Tornasol Films, SA/Road Movies Vierte Produktionen with the participation of Canal+ in co-operation with WDR/ARTE
An Impact Pictures/Nitrate Film/MACT production for Little Magic Films and Channel 4
Developed with the support of the European Script Fund
Produced with the help of Babs Thomas
Executive Producer
Kiki Miyake
Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre
Mariela Besuievsky
Ulrich Felsberg
Line Producers
Simon Hardy
Simon Scotland
Denise O'Dell
Associate Producer
Peter Ettedgui
Production Co-ordinators
Rosie MacFarlane
Lucette Legot
Production Managers
Frederic Bovis
Art Department:
Sarah Stinchcombe
Unit Manager
Tom Horovitch
Location Managers
Geordie Devas
Jose Villalba
Antonin Depardieu
Post-production Supervisors
Emma James
Chris Nixon
Specialist Researcher
Willow Grylls
Assistant Directors
Richard Lingard
Stefan Gates
Dominique Delany
Natasha Tahta
Sandrine Mannoni
Lucy Amor
Script Supervisor
Rosamund Davies
Casting Director
Liora Reich
Additional Photography
Simon Archer
Malcolm McLean
2nd Unit France
Jacques Renoir
Eric Bornes
Underwater Camera
Mike Valentine
Digital Effects
General Screen Enterprises
Creative Producer Digital Effects:
Craig Chandler
Graphic Designer
Hugh Greville-Morris
Art Directors
Raoul Albert
Marcus Wookey
Luis Valles
Design Positivist
David Wookey
Scenic Artist
Niki Bayard
Costume Designer
Roger Burton
Wardrobe Supervisor
Charlotte Couchman
Liz Daxauer
Tony Lilley
Hanna Coles
Additional - France:
Lynne Butterworth
Carol Hart
Titles Design
Janice Mordue
General Screen Enterprises
Additional Music
Nando De La Casa
Arthur Goikoetxea
Josu Zabala
Javi Antoñana
Orquesta de Cámera Jesús Guridi
Juanjo Mena
Composer's Co-ordinator
Helena Gonzalez
"Voleur d'etincelles" by Arthur H, arranged by Andrew Crocker, performed by Arthur H, Alexandra Mikhalkova; "La Marché aux poissons" & "La Traversée du gand" from the film L'Hirondelle et la mésange by Raymond Alessandrini; "Fête foraine" from the film Zero de conduite by Maurice Jaubert; "Dans ma peniche" by Charles Borel-Clerc; "L'Ile de Pâques" by Maurice Jaubert; "A Paris dans chaque faubourg" from the film Quatorze juillet by Maurice Jaubert, René Clair; "DarkTown Strutter's Ball" words/music by Shelton Brooks; "Tu veras" by Miguel Matamorusi
Maryse Laptes
Sound Mixer
Barry Reed
Dubbing Mixer
Tim Alban
Supervising Sound Editor
Paul Davies
Stewart Henderson
Jack Stew
Felicity Cottrell
Bernard O'Reilly
Stunt Supervisor
Roderick Woodruff
Film Extracts
Á propos de Nice (1930)
Zéro de conduite (1933)
L'Atalante (1934)
Protea (1913)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Romane Bohringer
Lydu Lozinska
James Frain
Jean Vigo
Jim Carter
Diana Quick
William Scott-Masson
Lee Ross
Oscar Levy
Nicholas Hewetson
Boris Kaufman
Brian Shelley
Maurice Jaubert
Paola Dionisotti
Frank Lazarus
James Faulkner
Doctor Gerard
Francine Bergé
Mama Lozinska
Vernon Dobtcheff
Papa Lozinska
Adolfo Fernández
Nicholas Barnes
casino croupier
David Battley
cinema manager
Joe Boiling
Zero Boy
Anna Bolt
Christine Burlett
hospital concierge
Jack Capelli
Zero Boy
Charles Collingwood
plain clothes policeman
Dean Cook
young Jean Vigo
Kenneth Cranham
the producer
Marie Dang
the venus
Emmanuelle Epstein
Elizabeth Lozinska
Donald Gee
Dominican priest
Jeremy Greig
Zero Boy
Constant Guerrier
the director
Michael Harbour
studio manager
Blake Keenan
Zero Boy
Stephen Kemble
Monique Letitre
Aunt Lozinska
Gabriel Pamies
David Lozinska
Brian Pettifer
Hannah Pupkewitz
John Quentin
sanatorium official
Joe Roberts
Simon Scott
young doctor
Kay Stonham
Anna Wilson-Jones
Genya Lozinska
Juno Temple
piano girl
Film Four Distributors
9,273 feet
103 minutes 2 seconds
Dolby SR
Colour by
Rank Film Laboratories
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011