L’Atalante is a beautiful little French film from 1934 directed by Jean Vigo, who was dying of tuberculosis at age 29 while creating this film, and indeed directed some scenes from a stretcher. Such a pity this talented director had to be alive and at his creative peak during a time before the invention of antibiotics! So sad.
This is a simple and poignant tale of a young couple, Jean and Juliette, who marry and move onto the barge ‘L’Atalante’ where the groom is Captain. Also on board are the colorful first mate Pere Jules and a cabin-boy. I have to say I was underwhelmed with the first few minutes of the film which were sort of a bit slap sticky, but soon enough I was engrossed in the tale of what happens when 2 not entirely similar people try to make a marriage work. The arguments – the painful separations – the returns to closeness. There is some really beautiful camera work by cinematographer Boris Kaufman who went on to DP On The Waterfront, 12 Angry Men, Splendor In The Grass, and other celebrated Hollywood films. (I am a total sucker for beautiful photography). Also some great songs by Maurice Jaubert reinforce and tie together emotional elements.
Actually Roger Ebert has this film in his “Great Films” list and has written just a wonderfully insightful review here. But don’t read the review until after you’ve seen the film – Ebert always gives away just about every plot detail.
Grade: A+ all the way, poignant and beautiful