If "Lord of the Flies" had turned into a dark broadway musical that saw such great success it was transposed into a tv show and that tv show was so successful for a spin-off and that show was so good that it was parodied in fan fiction, when that fan fiction turned into a novel and that novel became a film, you would have "Zero for Conduct". I say all this because the connection between "Zero for Conduct" and "Lord of the Flies" feels very strong, but in the 'based-on-the-novel-based-on-the-fan-fiction-based-on-the-spin-off-show-based-on-the-show-based-on-the-musical-based-on-the-movie-based-on-the-novel' kind of way.
Vacation time is over and boys are sent back to school, where they live as prisoners under the tyrannical rule of mean adults.
If you could argue that any movie was gender specific, it would be this one. Boys will be boys, they break things, they goof off; but the men at the school have one very important rule: no fun allowed!
A new teacher comes and tries to lighten the mood by drawing cartoons while doing handstands, he is tsked rather severely.
The movie begins with two friends on the way back to school via the train. "Zero for Conduct" director Jean Vigo seems to be mocking silent movies in this scene, because the humor that springs forth from the boys' interactions is due to mockery.
Vigo, who would die incredibly young, has a very keen eye and his humor is undeniable.
A group of boys, tired of being repressed and punished decide to stage a coup. The result is a very interesting and altogether entertaining piece of cinema.
"Zero for Conduct" is very short, but Vigo manages to pack one scene right after the other rapidly...it's alarming how much actually happens in the film.
From random scenes where the schoolboys chase down a lady to jokes about midgets, "Zero for Conduct" is most definitely not PC and delightfully offensive.
Parts of the film feel like genuine drama bits and others are so outrageous that it can't be anything but a precursor to Mel Brooks' films.
From a pillow fight that leads to a war-like march that would later be brought back to severity by films like "The Lord of the Rings" (take your pick of which one) and "Braveheart" and from the incredibly short, whinny schoolmaster to the pirate-like vengeance that the boys display, "Zero for Conduct" may surprise you with its colorfulness and its laughs.
It's not a perfect film but when dishes and pots rained down on a crowd of real people and marionettes, I was reminded of Andrew Lloyd Weber's song "Masquerade" from "The Phantom of the Opera"—and it is funny (in more than one way) how Vigo's short career and life has influenced so much.
But all that aside, "Zero for Conduct" is delightful in its own way.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars