The French director Jean Vigo died in 1934 at the age of 29, just after his only feature film was released in a butchered version to general indifference. His earlier short Zero De Conduite was banned in France - where Vigo was always associated with his disgraced father, a famous anarchist accused of spying for the Germans during World War I. The ban was only lifted in 1940.
Since his death, Vigo has come to be recognised as the great doomed poet of the cinema, born sickly and rushing through life despite a chronic respiratory disease. Julien Temple's romantic biopic of Vigo focuses not on the filmmaking but on the director's tempestuous but deep relationship with his wife, Lydu, another invalid he met in an Alpine sanatorium. Temple, himself not known as a prolific director, reins in his tendency to overdo things and delivers a straight love story, almost simplistic in Vigo's style, shot through with magical moments that illustrate the way Vigo channelled his life and passions into his work.
James Frain, here doing for lung disease what Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting did for heroin addiction, is a glamorous, haunted hero, spreading chaos in a fascist-run sanatorium and sometimes flying off the handle so fast that even his many friends can't help him. And Romane Bohringer, carrying off that silky-lipped darkness only French beauties can get away with, makes you understand just why Vigo would think a few years with her were a better deal than a lifetime of coughing in bed somewhere.
Everyone else has to take a back seat, which requires sketches of devotion from Vigo's pals and a measure of flamboyant eccentricity from the likes of Jim Carter as a tattooed anarchist.
It's a good enough love story - far more joyous than tragic despite the predestined downbeat ending - to hold the interest of anyone who has no idea who the hero is, but fans of Vigo's slender output will find the works illuminated in fresh and interesting ways. Not incidentally, then, this is Temple's best film to date.