France, 1934, 89 min
Direction: Jean Vigo
Cast: Michael Simon, Dita Parlo, Jean Daste, Gilles Margaritis, Louis Lefebvre, Maurice Gilles, Raphael Diligent
Selection: Pedja's Film Collection
Jean Vigo was a passionate cineaste and a persistent fighter against lack of imagination and creativity, with a character and artistic sensibility like a fantastic combination of Renoir and Buñuel. He made only four movies before he died of tuberculosis, when he was 29. The last of them was L'Atalante, a work praised for beautiful realistic poetic style, but also for some unbelievably unreal scenes, which later strongly influenced the creators of the new wave of the French film, almost all of them listing it as their favorite.
A romantic drama follows a young married couple, the captain of "L'Atalante" boat, called Jean, and his bride Juliette. Immediately after their wedding in her birthplace, in a province, they go sailing to Paris. The very first scenes, their wedding march, and Juliette’s thoughtful walk along the barge, with her wedding dress romantically swaying in the breeze, are placed in the very anthology of the seventh art. The plot begins when it turns out that the honeymoon is also a suspicious cargo delivery of a shipment that also travels on their boat, and when Jean stubbornly disallows Julietta to listen to the radio. The balance of the drama is kept by a weird crew member, Pere, who produces a lot of laugh and comical situations. Real problems emerge when, after coming to Paris, in a music club, a charming merchant lures the naïve young woman to escape from her husband with talks about the irresistible City of Light. Jean is depressed, but Pere talks him into going in a search for the runaway bride, which keeps the tension of the story and keeps the viewers in an almost breathless condition until the end of the movie.
The love scenes of the young couple from the beginning of their life together produced an erotic charge not seen before in the cinemas of France between the two wars. Long scenes of complete silence between the lovers made the film story unusually deep, and the very end produced a real explosion of emotions and romantic pathos. Only several days after the premiere, which was graded as unsuccessful, Vigo died in the arms of his beloved wife, Lidu. The co-screenplay writer of the movie, Jean Guno, later judged L'Atalante as not commercially potential enough, so he reedited it and renamed it into Le Chaland Qui Passe, after a popular French song of the time, which, by the way, can be heard in a scene of the Vigo’s work. In 1992, "Sight & Sound", a renowned British film magazine named this movie the sixth greatest accomplishment in the history of cinematography.