L’Atalante

Film Criticism, Movies

L’Atalante, directed by Jean Vigo, is one of the films on the BFI’s Greatest Films of All Time list that I was totally unfamiliar with which was a pleasant change. I have already seen several of the films and am familiar with many of the others, so going into a film cold gave me the chance for a different experience.

L’Atalante is an enjoyable tale about newlyweds who live aboard a barge captained by the husband, Jean (Jean Dasté). The other members of the crew, Père Jules (Michel Simon) and a cabin boy (Louis Lefebvre) are not used to having a woman on board. Initially, Père Jules resents Juliette’s (Dita Parlo) presence but warms up to her during a charming scene in his cabin. When the barge docks in Paris, Jean eventually takes Juliette out dancing where she meets a peddler who, much to the dismay of Jean, openly flirts with her. Later, when Juliette sneaks back to the city, the outraged Jean decides to sail off without her, leaving her to fend for herself in an unfamiliar setting. Jean later regrets his decision and becomes depressed leaving Père Jules to straighten out the mess.

L’Atalante is the first film on the list that uses sound dialog which marks a significant progression. Both Sunrise and City Lights cleverly used the soundtrack for music and effects. The technology wasn’t yet advanced enough at the time of Sunrise to use it for dialog and Chaplin made the choice to keep in the style of his prior silent films.

Although I really enjoyed this film, I don’t see it remaining high on my list. The character of Père Jules is fascinating and pretty much steals the movie. There are many charming and memorable scenes; however, the relationship between Jean and Juliette never quite works for me. I found it somewhat contrived in that, given what we learn about Juliette, she would have agreed to marry a barge skipper and spend her life in such a confined manner. I found the film similar in some ways to Sunrise in that it portrays the life of small town newlyweds who run into trouble once they wander out into the bigger world. Sunrise, however, is a much more engaging and emotional experience.

My ratings so far:

  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
  3. City Lights (1931)
  4. The General (1926)
  5. The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
  6. L’Atalante (1934)
  7. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  8. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

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