Ã€ propos de Nice (1930)
Director: Jean Vigo
Synopsis: What starts off as a conventional travelogue turns into a satirical portrait of the town of Nice on the French Cote d’Azur, especially its wealthy inhabitants.
Never having seen any of Jean Vigo’s work before, and knowing little about him other than his reputation, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began viewing this incredible little film. Beginning as a standard travelogue — and clearly inspired by the fad for ‘city symphonies’ which was already waning by 1930 — the film grows increasingly subversive while simultaneously growing into a remarkable spectacle that leaves you marvelling at the inventiveness of the 25-year-old director.
Beginning with a stunning shot of the city from an aeroplane, Vigo proceeds to poke fun at the bourgeoisie as he films them promenading up and down the beach-front. Their pomposity is brazenly exposed with only the power of the image (the film is silent) and the use of music (the choice of soundtrack must be crucial for a film like this). Vigo alternates shots of the wealthy holidaymakers with shots of bums and road sweepers and poor housewives washing their clothes in the street, reinforcing the whiff of perversity that accompanies each shot of the well-to-do.
Some of the shots are breath-taking. Vigo uses slow motion to turn the dancing of a group of girls into something almost sensuous, while simultaneously using the same shot to ridicule the goose-stepping police officers seen earlier. He tilts his camera to follow the lines of the arches of the posh hotels and casinos, and completes his satirising of the upper class by swapping shots of grotesque carnival figures for the shots of the wealthy promenading by the sea.
Breathless stuff — one can only wonder what they made of it back in 1930.
Reviewed 13th August 2007)