A Propos De Nice | 1930
The first of Jean Vigo’s three surreal, experimental movies (he died four years later at the age of 29) is a wickedly satirical documentary contrasting the lives of the rich and poor in France’s Riviera city, Nice, a favourite resort of the well off since the 19th century. While Cannes and Monaco, flanking Nice on either side, have prospered, and thus suffered from crass redevelopment, Nice – although hardly downmarket – has an endearing, somewhat decaying, down-at-heel feel.
Vigo, though, turned his camera toward the monied grotesques of the Thirties on the Promenade des Anglais, the grand seaside parade that was built in the 1820s and supposedly paid for by the local English community to provide work for the unemployed after the failure of the 1822 orange crop.
Of the sumptuous hotels seen here, including the Hotel Ruhl and the Palais de la Mediterranée, only the mega-grandiose Hotel Negresco, 37 Promenade des Anglais, still lords it over the seafront. This temple to opulence, which houses an enormous chandelier whose twin hangs inside the Kremlin, boasted the presence of twelve kings at its opening. Incidentally, it was outside the Negresco that dancer Isadora Duncan came to a terrible end when a trailing scarf snagged in the wheels of her Bugatti. The Negresco can also be seen in Fred Zinnemann’s 1973 The Day of the Jackal.
The Ruhl has been demolished to make way for the bland Casino Ruhl, while the Mediterranée is merely a gutted shell.
Vigo constructs his film around Nice’s annual Carnival, still held over the twelve days of Lent until Shrove Tuesday, when King Carnival is ceremonially burned. It’s a raucous but good-natured event, with parades and a Battle of the Flowers.
The impressionist jigsaw also takes in the naval fleet, filmed in the beautiful bay at Villefranche, just east of Nice, and the extravagantly tasteless grave monuments of the Protestant Cemetery on the hill overlooking the old town.