L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)

What's it about? A young couple get married and spend their honeymoon aboard a barge on the Seine. Obviously not ones for privacy, they are accompanied by a drunken sailor, a young boy and a veritable infestation of cats – a test of their true love for each other. It has a limited re-release this week.


Is it any good? Not sure it deserves its exalted reputation but there's no denying it's an important and heartfelt film. Using some innovative techniques for the time, Vigo manages to convey the emotions and feelings of the young couple for each other through some poetic and surrealist imagery, particularly in the juxtaposition of scenes in which the couple are separated. To prevent more cynical viewers reaching for the sick-bag, Michel Simon as the cantankerous old sea-dog provides some genuinely hilarious moments, a little poignancy and stops the whole show becoming too soppy. There's a bit where he puts a cigarette in his belly button, and that's always funny. It obviously looks a bit dated, but even modern viewers used to CGI and special effects should appreciate the technical prowess on display is impressive for the 1930s. Apart from that, though, it's ultimately a film which tries to capture the feelings of being in love and I guess that will never be out of date. 

Anything else I should know? It's a big hit with critics, appearing on many lists of the greatest films ever made, whilst its style paved the way for the French New Wave. Sadly, talented director Vigo died from TB just weeks after its premiere at the tragically young age of 29, leaving L'Atalante as the best of only four films that he had completed. On waking to discover him dead beside her, his distraught wife rushed down a corridor and had to be prevented by friends from throwing herself from a window. True love, eh?

What does the Fonz think? Oh, L'amour. Broke my heart, now I'm aching for you.

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