Classic Movie Review: L’Atalante 1934

Title: L’Atalante
Release Date: 12 September 1934
Director: Jean Vigo
Production Company: Argui-Films

A newlywed couple process from the church to a canal barge for their honeymoon.  Jean (Jean Dasté ) is the captain of the barge delivering cargo at ports from Paris to Le Havre while Juliette (Dita Parlo) is a woman who has never traveled beyond the village where she grew up. At first, setting up house on the houseboat is eccentric and charming, with the scruffy crew member Père Jules (Michel Simon) and the cabin boy (Louis Lefebvre), forming an odd family, not to mention the numerous cats and kittens on bored. But things shift quickly as Jean’s jealousy and controlling nature makes life trapped on the barge miserable for Juliette.

The pair are separated for a time and ultimately reunited which I guess is supposed to be romantic, but I don’t see a bright future for this couple.  Nevertheless, this is a unique and fascinating film. I’m particularly entranced by the beautiful and eerie industrial landscapes captured in the location filming. The movie is more poetic than narrative, and like Jacque Tati’s films it features many wordless sequences of physical humor and humanity. Parlo gives off exuberant charm and innocence and is especially great playing off the gruff Simon.

This is a curious film and definitely one I’ll want to revisit.

Rating: ****