Jean Taris, Swimming Champion / Taris, roi de l’eau (1931)
Jean Taris, Swimming Champion is a short documentary by Jean Vigo. Although he only made films for a period of four years before his early death at 29, he is held today among cinema’s legends. In that span of four years he made four films of which two short documentaries, a forty minute film, and his masterpiece in his only full feature L’Atalante. Just with this brief filmography he influenced French cinema for decades to come including the French New Wave as I will illustrate in reviewing these four films over the next week or so.
Jean Taris, Swimming Champion is a just as it suggests a documentary about the swimming champion. Clocking in at 9 minutes, it really is only relevant because it is one of four of Vigo’s films. With that said it still provides an interesting watch as to some of the origins of the director’s techniques. His use of close-ups and freeze frames are the primary examples as indicated by Wikipedia. However what I found most interesting are the underwater shots. In his classic L’Atalante there is a beautiful scene at the end where the main character jumps into a river recalling a folk tale his missing wife had told him in that one can see the face of one’s true love in the water. Beginning with another character playing a phonograph the shot is made within the context of that music that almost plays out like a one and half water dance as the main character struggles to see the face of his wife in the water. This in turn makes this documentary important because the technique came from this film almost shot exactly in the same manner as the pictures below and above illustrate. Of the four films this is the only one that isn’t available on Youtube, and can really only be seen on Criterion Collection’s amazing set they have of Vigo.