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Zero for Conduct (Zéro de conduite) is a 1933 short film (41 minutes) by Jean Vigo.

It is set at a particularly repressive boarding school for boys that in fact operates more like a prison than a school. The food is monotonous, nothing but beans. Students march in military drill. The teachers punish the tiniest infraction with detention that keeps them on the grounds on Sunday, otherwise their only day of liberty. One teacher, an odd fellow named "Beanpole", steals from the students. Another teacher—the chemistry instructor, who creepily caresses a boy's hand—has his own issues.

Three of the older boys, Bruel, Caussat, and Colin, are regarded as particular rebels. They take under their wing Tabard, a smaller boy and the one who was disturbingly caressed by the chemistry teacher. The boys, tired of their poor treatment, rise in revolt.

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This tale of student rebellion was seen as dangerous left-wing allegory in France and banned for years. Later inspired an English movie about boarding-school rebellion, If....


Tropes:

  • Allegory: The oppressed masses rising up in revolt against authority.
  • Childish Pillow Fight: The most famous scene is the boisterous Childish Pillow Fight by all the students in the dorm, which is made into something more poetic when Vigo shows it in slow motion, feathers drifting everywhere.
  • Cool Teacher: Huguet, the new teacher who arrives with the students at the start of term, who is the only teacher who isn't a pervert or a martinet. He does Charlie Chaplin imitations to amuse the boys.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Tabard is established as fragile and sensitive when his mother holds him out an extra day from start of term, because he's feeling sad.
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  • Little People Are Surreal: The headmaster at the school is a little person with an absurd long beard.
  • One-Gender School: A prison-like boys' school.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Bruel and Caussat indulge in teenage rebellion by whipping out two cigars and smoking up a storm in a train compartment that is specifically marked as non-smoking.
  • Stop Trick: Vigo uses this old, old effect for a scene in which one of the boys makes a rugby ball disappear.
  • Surrealism: There are some surrealist touches in the movie. Vigo uses a Stop Trick to have a student make a rugby ball disappear. For some reason, when Tabard goes home on a holiday, he sits blindfolded in the parlor while a little girl (his sister?) holds a globe over his head. The back row of VIPs at the school ceremony that ends the film is actually puppets. And the caricature that Huguet draws of Beanpole comes to life.
  • Title Drop: Multiple references to the "zero for conduct" grade that students get for misbehavior.

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