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L'ATALANTE
1934 - Jean Vigo
France
52
Opening Shot

The film opens with a shot of the rear of a boat with the title L'ATALANTE displayed. We then see another boat moving by before it is quickly covered in the frame by clouds of smoke from below. This followed by exterior shots of a church and a wedding...

The Film

Jean Vigo's first and only full-length feature film, L'Atalante is a historic landmark in cinema history. The film has a long history, including being re-edited while Vigo was dying. A complete and definitive version of the film is now impossible, but the film was restored as an 89 minute version by France in 1990. Is it Vigo's original vision? Sadly, no, but it's most likely the closest anyone's to ever see of it. L'Atalante is a poetic and simple love story of a local women and the skipper of a ship. The characters are brilliantly captured in glorious cinematography, which create both a real and surreal atmosphere. The film is also both simple and complex, while always switching between fantasy and reality. It's a film that transformed filmmaking in many aspects. The skillful technique of Vigo is fascinating, and the inspiration to many filmmakers. It is a tremendous loss that Vigo died early and had his film destroyed. However, L'Atalante remains a timeless and influential film that stands as a masterpiece in cinema's history.

The Filmmaker

Despite only one feature and three short films in his filmography, Jean Vigo was one of the pioneers of the French Poetic realism and his influence makes him one of the most important directors in the history of cinema. His painful childhood (his father died in prison and his mother abandoned him) lead to a long battle with tuberculosis which tragically ended his life at the age of 29. Vigo's short filmography (most notably his two celebrated masterpieces Zero de conduite and L'Atalante) represent not only the incredible visionary he was but they stand as the defining works of poetic realism. Banned and censored in France until 1945, his 1933 film Zero de conduite is a masterfully original creation, one that was inspired by his own experience as a child in boarding school. His first and only feature film L'Atalante (which was reedited while he was dying) stands among the very greatest achievement in the history of film, as it was chosen as the 6th-greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound's 1992 poll.

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