If you’re reminded of Titanic, it’s no coincidence. James Cameron’s blockbuster brazenly referenced this 1934 French romance, in which young barge captain Jean Daste marries and then loses new bride Dita Parlo to the lights of the city. The sight of Parlo twirling spectrally beneath the Seine offered one of the stop-you-in-your-tracks images of the early talkies era, after Daste dives overboard in search of her ghost.
Jean Vigo’s low budget lyricism has long held the film world in thrall, but for the director there was to be a tragic denouement. Having shot in freezing temperatures he succumbed to tuberculosis just days after the film was completed. The son of a famed anarchist found hanged in a Paris prison cell, his short ‘Zero de Conduite’ presaged Lindsay Anderson’s ‘If’. The making of his one and only feature, regularly acclaimed as one of the greatest of all time, killed him.