"Let's make up for lost time." I finally got the opportunity to watch French director Jean Vigo’s poetic, down-to-earth masterpiece, L’Atalante, late night on TCM, the perfect time to catch this wonderfully crafted love story that had so much influence on French New Wave directors such as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. The plot of this deceptively simple story concerns a canal barge captain named “Jean” (Jean Daste) and his new bride, “Juliette” (Dita Parlo) as they struggle to forge a life together. However, it is actually one of the two barge crewmen, the eccentric, tattooed “Pere Jules” (Michel Simon) who practically steals the show. One of my favorite scenes involves Jules giving Juliette a tour of his cabin and showing her all of the crazy artifacts he has collected during his travels around the world. I also love how there are tons of cats swarming around the barge. Boris Kaufman (On the Waterfront) served as cinematographer. Tragically, Vigo (who film critic James Agee called “one of the very few real originals who have ever worked in film”) died of tuberculosis in 1934 at the age of 29. According to critic Roger Ebert, “This is the kind of movie you return to like a favorite song, remembering where you were and how it made you feel . . .” Highly recommended!
Useless Trivia: L’Atalante ranked No. 10 in Sight & Sound’s 1962 poll of the “Greatest Films of All Time.”
Did You Know ...
• In The Liveliest Art (1957), Arthur Knight remarks, "[Vigo] had a poet's instinct for the expressive symbol, for the beauty of the unexpected, for the intensity of an emotion captured in a single apt image."
• In A Century of Films (2000), critic Derek Malcolm writes, "The film is a masterpiece not because of the tragic story of its maker, nor because of its awkward genesis, but because, as Truffaut has said, in filming prosaic words and acts, [Vigo] effortlessly achieved poetry."