09/06/2017

Taris - Poetic Documentary

Quick Thoughts: Taris (1931)


A poetic depiction of a world champion swimmer.


Taris is a short documentary about the French swimming champion, multiple medal winner and world record holder, Jean Taris, in which he teaches a lesson in swimming. It is through this film and some mesmerising imagery capturing Taris under water that Jean Vigo furthers his approach to poetic realism and documentary. He also sustains some amount of commentary on French society with a little montage depicting an overweight person in a pool, floundering, throwing his body around, and a swimming instructor 'teaching' people how to swim out of the water. In fact, it's very easy to consider Taris as a film through which Vigo maybe tried to inspire or inform through an influential, high-standing figure.

However, what certainly overshadows the subtext of this narrative is its aesthetic beauty. With brilliant close-ups and cinematography that captures the textures and atmosphere of both a swimming pool and a body of water, Vigo finds mesmerising beauty in the seemingly simple act of swimming. Moreover, the slow and reverse motion that demonstrate the intricate forms and processes of Taris' movement are entirely astounding.

What Taris then serves to be is an excellent film through which to understand the idea of a poetic documentary as well as its purposes. Whilst an average expository documentary that simply informs (which Taris is to a certain extent) only means to educate in a direct and calculated manner, poetic forms of documentary are intended to be much more ambiguous and intellectually/emotionally engaging. The end goal of poetic documentaries is then exposition through spectacle that actually reinforces the message of a narrative - a great example of this in Taris being the final image that implies that swimming pervades Taris' whole life.


This brings us back to the idea that Vigo aimed to inspire French people through a depiction of a successful and dedicated figure in a field that is easily considered a recreational pass time; he didn't simply mean to tell his audience to swim and find greater meaning and purpose in the leisurely activity, but entice them into a realm of thought whereby they choose to engage the act of swimming and consider it in a more complex and even profound way.

All in all, Taris is an enthralling film as well as a commentary on film form and film content that marks a significant aspect of Jean Vigo's style and approach to cinema.

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