I, Qassandra

À Propos De Nice (1929) – Jean Vigo and Boris Kaufman - young women and doll heads celebrating on the deck

À propos de Nice (1929) – JEAN VIGO AND BORIS KAUFMAN

France, 1929 (1930), 23 minutes, Black & White, 00:23:00, Silent.

A guide for making reels…

The Film I saw yesterday, as part of my self-imposed A Movie A Day challenge brings us back to the very beginning. To the days of early talkies, the seamline era between silent films of music and films of spoken words. And as this short subject piece unfolds I can’t stop thinking that, well, this is how a reel is made, especially the section in which this lady’s clothes are being switched (or rather stripped off layer by layer, some mistakenly suggest) in a blink of a cut. But in those early days, there was still no Hays code to follow, and after all, this film was made in France… so in those not so prudent days, well before IG and its protective policy…, the last jump here is into the nude, like in Goya’s La Maja Desnude (1790-1800) and La Maja Vestida (1800-1805). In the end, we are flesh and blood, all of us, beneath all those socially-inflating masks… So, I’m thinking, back in the days when cinema was in its amoeba stage, yet to decide what it should be like, well, Truffaut would probably called it an Avant-guard piece, everything was still possible to explore. And with this (perhaps too) vast inventory of cinematic techniques and thematic practices, I think it might serve as an excellent guide to making reels, having been suggesting creators to (seemingly) go back to basic: and rethink what would they film, how should they edit the clips, what music should they choose and, if you really go that far, how to edit the music… just like in those early days of cinema, when it wasn’t yet clear whether this new medium is artistic in nature, fiction like, a documentary or something completely different. Just like the Reels.

Today we are roasting Apropos de Nice (About Nice) directed by Jean Vigo in collaboration with Boris Kaufmann (the brother of Dziga Vertov) in 1929 (or 1930). I have yet to see Vertov masterpiece movie of the same year. Truffaut claimed that in his third film L’Atlante, Vigo had reached his most mature and quintessential creative phase. But I prefer this reel-like shorty – his first creation. An amazing mix of contradictions that exists only for its existence, filming angles of all possible points-of-view and beyond, the common and the not so common, that create a wonderful collage both stylistically and thematically. Clever transitions with gradual exposure of the subsequent theme or interest. Or just a single (or so) frame that blinks in between (a cutaway) like in the movie Fight Club (1999). Jump transitions and only here, up to the bare flesh. All kinds of analogies which question social, artistic, maybe historical, maybe technological issues of all kinds, what is representation, what is metaphor, what is between high and low, joy and sorrow, rich and poor, work and idleness, people and their pets or doppelganger animals. What is between natural representation and artificial human-made representation. And all of that in only condensed 21 minutes. The only problem is that compared to reels, it is too long and much too busy. It is too busy. Period. It would be quite condensed even if it would be stretched into a full-time feature. But those were the “roaring” 1920s. So maybe there was really no other way of conveying this never-to-return happy days before the terrible fall from grace of the big depression. Were Vigo and his colleagues just celebrating the time they were living in or is it a reflexive gaze of disillusion of a glorious past…

Breakdown (For Fit Walkers)


After the initial big bang (fireworks), the city is introduced from an aerial view, as if photographed from a drone, and I just wonder how on earth did they make it (maybe from a light aircraft, perhaps the one later shown in the movie). And here's a casino table.

Animation / Outsiders Arriving

Plasticine animation accompanied by rhythmic music follows the opening shot: a train drives in, tourist couple with their luggage appeared in front of the train; jumps transitions – train gone, palm tree gone, they and their luggage are dragged away with Casino dice craps stick, superimposed on a casino table, more puppets are there dragged away. Vigo and Kaufmann weren't allowed to film in the casino.


Repetitions, more bird's eyes view sequences, sea wave sequences, there are also palm trees shot from a low angle facing up, like the ones I'm taking in HaYarkon Park, but this is the glorious French Riviera.

Preparations / Experimenting with size and Scale

Preparations: routine duties at the beginning of a working day: workers sweep the gutter water away… dissolve to sea waves, waiters clean tables and install sunshades over them, sculptors in their workshops are painting huge larger-than-life head statues (for the upcoming carnival). Experimenting with size and scale: a boy on top of a palm tree – pruning; a palm tree in a shot that makes it look like a miniature palm tree in a pot only to be revealed from a different angle as a full size palm tree in a huge pot.

Road / POV shot

The camera is turned to odd angles – buildings are shot on their side. Point-Of-View shot from a driver seat looking at the road or at the pavement with its cracks. Dissolve to the promenade.

Wandering at the Promenade

More POV shots of this unspecified person (us) gazing at the crowd amidst which s/he is moving.

Promenade Photographer

And there is a photographer with his tripod-mounted camera. He probably shots stills of passers-by for money.

Promenade Outsiders

And not only well-to-do foppish people are revealed to our wanderer self, but also a dog and a faceless street-cleaner with his broom and dustpan and cart (shot in close-up so he won't be recognized). A Peddler selling from a suitcase, a woman (a gypsy) carrying a child – begging for money only to be ignored by the well-groomed lady.

Static Shots / Experimenting With Distances

The camera is hovering over the people on the promenade (Promenade des Anglais), over the sea... it is static, so much so as it looks like a stills photo with only the sea waves moving. Those scene resembled the shots I take on Hilton beach. But this is not a boat, it's a light aircraft taking off from the sea (the camera tilted up). Promenade again in a static angular angle, cutaways of the aircraft or aircrafts and the promenade from different angles and from different distances, sometimes very close, at time distant.


Now it is indeed boats they are filming, sails, from a few different angles… how they got so close to those boats.

Gradual Cutaway Transitions / Tennis

A gradual transition to the tennis players. A cutaway of a man in a striking position hitting something (we can't figure out what) and back to the boats and then back again to the tennis match. Spectators. Players.

Mashup / Tennis - Pétanque

A tennis ball rolls into the camera and back to the tennis players. Then again, a repetition, just because he fills like it…And then all of a sudden it shows Pétanque players… Was the rolling ball a Pétanque ball.

Racing Cars

And a cutaway of racing cars (Grand Prix motor racing) and then the boats again, the water jet a boat leaves behind, the racing car again (another "gradual transition" or is it parallel editing…).

Red Carpet

Cars drop off passengers at a certain red carpet with someone opens the car door for them and everything. Spectators seated across the road, medium shot from above, the driver goes back a little to drop off his passenger precisely at the carpet.

Satirical Metaphor

People enjoying themselves in Cafes and coquettish women rejoicing on the promenade, and a cutaway of ostrich head, is that a metaphor for that pompous lady.

Reading / Napping

Reading newspapers with cutaway of birds in the sky… and taking a nap on the deck chairs.


And some kind of party is going on and now we see the accordionist that plays all along (it is an accordion tune who accompanied this silence motion picture, at least in the version I saw, there are versions with different music), and a bass drum with a smiling face on it, similar to those of the sculptures yet to come. And more napping folks and more musicians, a violinist and a napping fellow, and a harp female player and a napping fellow.

Calves And Feet

All sort of people, close-ups, mainly of calves and feet. Cutaways of a man reading.

Clothes Jumps

Then the Reels clothes transitions ending up in the nude (the accordion goes wild…). No, she is not playing strip poker… she is not stripped layer by layer, those are different garments for different days or times of day.

À Propos De Nice (1929) – Jean Vigo and Boris Kaufman - Jumps of a woman getting naked

Cutaways of marble reliefs.

In The Sun

Folks on the beach, on deck chairs, dressed or in bathing suits, or playing ball in the water. A man face skin is turned from white to dark (another movie magic). He seems like a poor sailor getting too much sun. And some alligators cutaways (are there any crocodiles in Nice…)

Buildings - Working Class Quarters

A hectic camera movement and a bunch of strange-angle shots of buildings, emphasizing their structural patterns (an allusion to the tombstones yet to come)… and building tops, narrow dark streets of lesser grand and the camera tilt down to a group of washerwomen. And more scenes of the working class sections of town, the clothes are hanging to dry in the open air from the balconies, two boy are carrying huge circular artifacts on their heads… building tops, children gambling in a card game at the corner of the street, or playing Rock Paper Scissors... the circular head pieces end up being the cover of some huge cooking vessel in the market. Market scenes. Repeated from different angles. Those repetitions - do they create some kind of a plot… Rock Paper Scissors again and a child counting on his fingers. An injured or twisted fingers, a child with wounded face, is that leprosy? The trash on the floor… the sewage flows freely in the streets and a cat eating from the garbage pile suddenly turns his head and stares at us stressed and intimidated and then runs away.


And a sharp change of subject to the idle rich, adorned and dancing and dining. And a procession of giant sculptures. And people picking up flowers and tossing them on the marchers and on one another. And more sculptures passing by, and a policeman gives flowers to children in the crowd. And a dog with flower in his mouth and more sculptures, now parading some giant head sculptures with human legs, some are even looking directly at us. Cutaways of women kicking their legs in the air with life-size dolls behind them : a doll head on a stick – like a beaded man just after being executed, a rider doll next to a horse doll and a monkey doll head on the far right. More giant sculptures, the little head of their operators are seen through a hole in the sculpture waists. One of them has cross bars on it, like of a prison cell. Not just sculptures of white people, also of people of color (and the music changes). Or is it some kind of animals. The girls with the beheaded man are dancing again and now there is a doll, that is, a mannequin in a shop window with lavish carnival huge head pieces, the girls dancing and huge penguins are parading and dolls of people of colors (stereotypical Africans) and then the camera is lingering over a parade of soldiers, with a cutaway of a policeman doll head, with cutaways of graves shots (many white marble crosses) and battleships…. or are they big cruisers and the Can-Can girls are on board (and not on a carnival cart).


A priest stares at the street signs covering the fence of a building site of what seems to be a ruined wing of the church and then walks away from there, crossing the road to the other side. Parallel editing of the dancing ladies (now with their back to us) and a line of people leaving a church and walking in line behind 2 adorned carriages (are those hearses? Is it a funeral?) They are following rows of church boys and elsewhere on the procession, after the second carriage, of nuns.

Back At The Carnival

An odd bicycle – a new gadget of the rich and again flower tossing on one another at the carnival. A certain old lady in a carriage re-emerged. The promenade again. Horses. A decorated soldier raising his hat.

A Shoe Shiner

A shoe-shiner who brushes and brushes, until the feet loss their shoes and socks... another Reels jump, only more interesting. The decorated soldier and a blurry close-up of his medals. A tombstone cross and a chimney.

Slow Motion / The Gils Again

And now the camera is beneath us, another unconventional angle. The people are walking over a transparent sphere (are we in a sewer manhole). The girls are dancing again, their armpit are hairy. Tombstones and the girls again accompanied by a Pierrot clown. Slow motion is once again used. Vigo developed a fondness for this effect, so much so, he used it in his next film Zéro de conduit, and in the next one L'Atalante… graves again… with marble figures of parents and their children. And putty figurines… families of the idle indulgents reunite only in their death. And the dancing girls in slow motion again. And graves with angels.


The sky is getting darker with clouds, the sea shore, palm trees and again tombstones… and a cutaway of muscleman stretching-shaking his six-packs… The sky is whitening with clouds… the sea waves and ripples resembled them in hue. More tombstones with an angel and a women sitting, both looking up. Why the camera is drown into her dark-hole loins. Shadowy tree against a white cloudy sky, a white ripple against the dark rocks it hits. Cypress trees are dancing in the wind, and the girls are still dancing, circling their hips… an old woman cutaway and the girls kick their legs in the air, inviting our voyeuristic gaze, but there's nothing down there… like angels… how on earth did they do it? (Well, on the stills screenshots taken from the Blu-ray version you can notice they do wear panties.)

The End

And a woman with heavy make-up, like an old witch and ship funnels… (or is it factory chimneys) and one brick chimney from an extreme foreshortening angle and some cutaways of the old lady from different angles. And yet another even more foreshortened angle of that chimney. And a deserted sculpture at the workshop laid upside down, it resembled the old lady, and the old man shown before. What is between real people and their carnival comic representations or their not comic tombstone impersonations? Heavily smoking chimney like going on fire. Workers laughing, one of them misses his front teeth, it's a factory. The very heavy smoke of the chimney… a fire of a furnace and the coal in the factory with a man trying to handle it with a rake, rays of light entering jaded windows. We are all going to end up in hell and need to seek salvation. The steamy production floor of the factory. A smoking chimney.  The END.

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