JEAN TARIS, CHAMPION DE FRANCE (1931)
aka Taris, roi de l’eau; Jean Taris, Swimming Champion
Article 4860 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Jean Vigo
Featuring Jean Taris
What it is: Documentary
Jean Taris swims.
Thanks to Walt Lee’s “Reference Guide to Fantastic Films”, this project is taking me into some truly unusual areas. I certainly didn’t expect to be covering a sports documentary as part of this series, but that’s what this short appears to be. The copy I found was narrated in French without English subtitles, but from what I gather, the documentary is supposedly about learning how to swim like French champion swimmer Jean Taris. That’s all well and good, but where’s the fantastic content? I’d have to say it’s the cinematic style of Jean Vigo. He uses any number of cinematic techniques to enhance the visual aspect of the production, including running the film backwards (there are reverse shots of Taris diving into the water), slow motion, and double exposure; the final technique pops up in the end where a fully clothed Jean Taris appears to walk on water. The emphasis often seems to be upon the texture of the water, especially during the slow motion segments where the foam and bubbles of the water seem to take on a life of their own. The end result is a movie that, despite being a documentary, often looks like an abstract work of art; if you didn’t know you were watching footage of someone swimming, you’d not be sure what you were seeing at times. As a result, the movie slips into the realm of the fantastic by its non-realistic values. It’s very interesting, and in some ways, I don’t think it matters I couldn’t understand the narration; it works just as well without it.