Short Takes (I): “Zéro de Conduite”

Is Tabard (Gérard de Bédarieux) one of the screen’s first queer heroes?  Petite and girlish, fondled by his lecherous teacher, waved off as a “sissy” by his classmates, he nevertheless leads his fellow schoolboys in the charge against their dictatorial masters at the end of Jean Vigo’s Zéro de Conduite (1933; 44 minutes).  (When I first saw him on-screen, I thought he was a tomboy who had invaded the boarding school in disguise.)  In Vigo’s cheerfully anarchist masterpiece, everything is turned topsy-turvy, in the spirit of what Mikhail Bahktin has called the “carnivalesque” (as Michael Temple notes in his commentary track for the film): the powerless become powerful, children discipline adults, a sissy leads the revolution.    

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