L'Atalante

Co-presented by the French Film and TV Office

Don’t be fooled by the flying cat gags or that scene where Michel Simon does the Dougie — for all its playfulness, Jean Vigo’s 1934 romance L’Atalante is an obsessively precise work, anchored by a deep reverence for the cinematic craft. The only feature of Vigo’s abbreviated career (tuberculosis), L’Atalante dots a modest storyline with scenes of jaw-dropping visual reverie so tonally and rhythmically sophisticated they might pass for the contemporary work of any of the more aesthetically open-handed modern auteurs (think Nicolas Winding Refn, Alfonso Cuarón, Barry Jenkins). As on all his films, Vigo here enlists cinematographer Boris Kaufman, the youngest brother of Soviet documentarian Dziga Vertov, with whom the young Pole shared a delighted fascination with the unique technical potential of film. Despite mannered performances entirely typical of the pre-Method era, Juliette (Dita Parlo) and Jean’s (Jean Dasté) tempestuous honeymoon comes brightly to life on screen, largely thanks to Kaufman’s dynamic camera, which plies the decks of the titular vessel and its lovers’ tangled bodies with startling intimacy.

Dir. Jean Vigo, 1934, 35mm, 89 min.

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