L’Atalante (1934), the sole feature from French filmmaker Jean Vigo, is a vision of everyday poetry.
The romantic story of a young couple (Jean Daste and Dita Parlo) who marry and move onto a cramped barge that drifts through the canals of France is a simple tale, as much a visual song as a story. After a lover’s spat splits the two—she heads to the lights and life of the city, he returns to his floating bachelor paradise—it takes the ship’s slovenly mate (the great bearish comic Michel Simon) to reunite them. Gorgeous, lyrical, with dreamy images (captured by future Oscar winner Boris Kaufman), surreal asides, and a vision of rural France that comes close to paradise, this masterpiece has often been called one of the greatest films ever made, even when it was only available in cut and compromised versions.
Vigo died before the film was premiered and the film suffered cuts and neglect for decades before it was restored to its “ideal” form and premiered Cannes in 1990, and revisited again in 2001 to create the finest looking print possible from the surviving materials. The Criterion edition was mastered from the 2001 restoration.
In French with English subtitles.
Also available on DVD and Blu-ray in deluxe Criterion editions.
The Complete Jean Vigo (A propos de Nice / Taris / Zero de conduite / L’atalante) (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]