L’Atalante (1934) Review

L’Atalante (1934)  Director: Jean Vigo


Jean Vigo was a 1930s French film director, and L’Atalante was his only feature length film. Vigo was only active from 1930-1934, and none of his films were commercial successes, leaving his wife ill and poor to the point that he was forced to sell his camera at one point. Vigo is often considered as a genius who died too soon. He died of tuberculosis in 1934, at age 29. L’Atalante was his final film and has been praised as one of the greatest films of all time.

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The dream-like film tells the story of Jean, a ship captain of the ship called “L’Atalante” (pronounced “lah-talaunt”), who gets married and moves aboard his ship with his wife. He has a moment of jealousy when he discovers his wife spending time with his first mate. They part ways while the ship is parked in Paris, but Jeane and Juliette eventually reunite in embrace. The film accurately captures the immediate highs and lows of romance, and marriage, in a charming fashion.

L’Atalante is an odd film that fits well into the panoply of French cinema. At times, it can be difficult for a modern audience to engage with the film. However, the redeeming qualities are in the cinematography – scenes of dreams, underwater dancing, beautiful splicing and shimmering scenes of blissful love immediately following Jean’s wedding. Perhaps there is some partiality among critics for the background of the film – namely that Vigo caught tuberculosis during many of the wet and cold filming sequences for the film and died shortly after the film was completed.

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