53 of 1001 Movies: L’Atalante (1934)

Depending on your expectations, Jean Vigo’s, L’Atalante will be one of the better film experiences you have, or one of the most underwhelming. There are is a lot going on in this film that captures much of what has been perceived in Hollywood’s modern films about Paris in the 30s. It makes movies like Midnight In Paris that much more magical to realize directors like Jean Vigo was capturing the same atmosphere as he lived it. While it may have not been edgy in France at the time, Americans viewing this probably weren’t accustomed to the nudity, blunt sexuality, and cursing that was put into the film.

Juliette is a young bride, who upon marrying Jean is uprooted from her village, and now is living on a ship with her husband, and his two crew members. The cabin boy, and the odd Pere Jules make for interesting companionship for the woman who wants to see Paris so bad she is willing to risk her marriage. Her want to experience every location, especially with theĀ encouragement of Pere puts tension between her and Jean. Once arriving in Paris, Juliette escapes into the city where she puts her relationship to Jean to the ultimate test.

This film is one of those that sticks around long after viewing. Juliette captures the screen, and holds the attention of almost the entire film just by her nature. She is like the little explorer that lives in most people. Jean seems more used to his surroundings though, so he doesn’t seem to fully understand why Juliette wants to visit Paris as she does, and when he fears that she will end up with another man he becomes overbearing.

There are scenes in L’Atalante that feel so ahead of it’s time. One scene where the two lovers are in bed, and they are missing each other so badly that just because of their body language you can feel how bad they are missing the other. Within this scene is wrapped a lot of sexuality that would be normal between two newlyweds. Another scene shows Jean viewing Juliette underwater, and while eerie it is somehow beautiful. The other memorable scene you might forget in the long run, but has a lot of impact upon first viewing is the ghostly figure of Juliette in her wedding gown after marrying, and setting sail on the ship, walking on the ship deck in a dark setting. It has a very creepy, lonely vibe to it.

Vigo created much emotion, and perfect atmosphere in this film. While you can see what captures Juliette at first regarding Paris, he also captures the dangers of the city that surround her. There was a lot of chemistry between the two leads, and it grows as the movie goes. For film buffs, and people wanting to see film at some of it’s best in the early days this is an interesting watch.

Rating 3 of 5

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