Wednesday, June 12, 2002


This was the only feature length film ever made by Jean Vigo, who died of TB just after the film was released. The plot is simple: a young bride and her husband get used to each other. He works and lives on a river barge and she is a sheltered girl from a rural village who wants to taste life in the big city. Also living on the barge are an old salt with an interesting past and a young cabin boy. After a while, they all begin getting along but when they dock in Paris, she's irritated that her husband doesn't want to spend more time there. He does end up taking her to a Parisian cafe, but he gets jealous of another man's attentions toward his wife and takes her back to the barge. She leaves to have an adventure of her own. He takes off without her and soon regrets it. Will they find each other, and be able to live together?

This is a very sensuous film; it's not explicit, but it does have some rather erotic moments, most notably one night when the two are separated, he on the barge and she in a motel, and they both lie in bed, caressing their own arms and chests and thinking of each other. There are also some intimate moments that play out much more realistically than any Hollywood scenes of the time. I don't know much about 30's foreign cinema, but L'ATALANTE feels like a precursor of the neorealist movement, except for a couple of scenes involving some striking dream-like images (surreal, according to some critics, but not really). It looks like it was filmed on a real barge going down a real river. According to IMDb, the actress who played the bride, Dita Parlo, and her performance in the movie were the inspirations for Madonna's SEX book. As much as I enjoyed it, I think this is the kind of film that will be even better with repeated viewings. Although the print on the tape I saw was in pretty good condition, a digital restoration would be wonderful.

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