L'Atalante (1934)
September 13, 2015 10:13 PM - Subscribe

A barge captain marries a young country girl, and the two climb aboard the L’Atalante—otherwise populated by an earthy first mate and a multitude of cats—to embark on their new life together.
posted by Ian A.T. (10 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I watched this a year or so ago and thought it was utterly incredible. And not just because of the cats.
posted by dng at 4:24 AM on September 14, 2015

A beautiful film. Jean Vigo's short film Zéro de conduite is also great. Those who knew Vigo lost a friend, Vigo of course, his own life, and the rest of us lost whatever masterpieces he would most likely have gone on to make.
posted by juiceCake at 6:57 AM on September 14, 2015

The thing with the cats was pretty great. Funnily, there was a scene that put me in the mind of the cat attack in Let the Right One In.

Overall really enjoyed the "slice of life" feel of this movie. Not much happened. Adjustments to a new relationship, various people's personalities. I felt carried along on a barge myself, just sort of drifting around with these people and their lives.
posted by latkes at 10:25 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't even know why I love this movie as much as I do.

One thing I really liked is that this is the movie I wanted Murnau's Sunrise to be. I mean, there are quite a few obvious similarities, and Sunrise is beautiful and stunning and engaging, but it's a morality tale with an absolutely horrific moral, and no amount of creativity and technical skill can make up for that entirely. (It too is excellent, though, and if you haven't seen it, I do recommend watching it. Just try not to learn any lessons from it, because that is some real asshole morality in that story.)

L'Atalante is the movie I wanted to see, but better even than that.

I read somewhere someone called it 'snowglobe cinema,'* which I really like for a description. It's a self-contained story in kind of a self-contained reality.

Like, oh, man, Pere Jules. Holy crap. The cats, his curios, THE HANDS YOU GUYS THE HANDS, those tragic tattoos. He's terrifying and sympathetic, and oh, man something just kills me about when Jean walks in on Juliette fixing his hair and Jules impulsively runs outside and has a dog groomer shear him. Superficially, especially early in the film, he looks like he's going to be the buffoon character in there for comedic relief or something. And he kind of is, but he's all these other things, too.

And I love that Juliette isn't afraid of him,. I love that she isn't afraid of anything, really. She, too, she's the sweet gentle country bride she's set up as, but she's a lot more than that, too. She's fun and intrepid and resourceful, and she is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. I love how, after the loooong walk out to the barge, in her white wedding dress, she grabs onto that whatever it is and hangs onto it (I know nothing about boats--what is that long, swinging thing they pull people onto the boat with?) to swing her on board.

And the scene when Juliette is left behind and she and Jim are sleeping in their respective beds, both writhing, both with the same polka dot shadows over them, like a pox.

It's all those little scenes, so evocative and elegantly portraying those little slices of life, interweaving with a simple, mundane storyline. It's not a single linear narrative where everything serves a single, focal plot. It's all these little things happening on the periphery af the story, hinting at other stories but just sort of passing them by like ships passing in the night. (Ewww.)

I mean, again, you guys. THE HANDS.

According to this story, Vigo's reaction when given the story he had to work with was “What the fuck do you want me to do with this? It’s Sunday-school stuff.”

And it is, and look at what he did with this Sunday school stuff. Just try to imagine what else he could have done. His death was a massive loss.

* Found it! This guy wrote a wonderful love letter to this movie that is well worth reading. "Wild kindness." Wow. I like that too.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:55 PM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seconding Sunrise. I still remember parts of it over 20 years from having seen it.
posted by juiceCake at 8:45 PM on September 15, 2015

I just loved Pere Jules. I was riveted when he was on the screen. The rest of the movie left me nonplussed, but it was all worth it for that utterly perfect final scene.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:21 PM on September 16, 2015

The actor who played Pere Jules was only 39 when the film was made! Which is mindblowing. I was going to say something here about hard living, but the guy lived to 80, so he must have been doing something right.

Very much along the same lines: Robert Shaw was just 47 (!!!) when Jaws was made, and would have only been 18 at the time of the Indianapolis sinking.

The entire time I was watching this, I was sick to my stomach with dread, thinking "ugh please don't let this creep's straight-up abusive behavior be explained away as him being gripped by the passions of young love." And...yup, that's basically what the story is. The past was fucked up, you guys.

But after watching it a second time and living with it for a while, I can come to peace with the plot if I view it in the context of the times. I just wish I didn't have to hang that asterisk on there, because despite the fact that I found the main storyline repulsive, I was utterly charmed by this film and enraptured with everything going on whenever Jean wasn't on the screen. ernielundquist does a great job of describing how gorgeous and mysterious the film can be. I loved (almost all of) this movie.

A few articles about the film that I liked:
  • Roger Ebert's Great Movies writeup really helped me come to grips with the human element of the story and the lopsided relationship of the leads. After reading it, I don't necessarily like that aspect of the film, but I understand it better.
  • This Writers Without Money article, which makes some great points about how much of the plot is driven by the film's depiction of the working class
  • And this review, which I don't necessarily agree with 100%, but love for the observation that "too much of the plot feels padded with unmotivated fits of shitty behaviour."

posted by Ian A.T. at 8:20 AM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Jean really is a jerk. I think the reason it didn't bother me was that the movie really doesn't strike me as a morality tale. Possibly because of the strange sort of realism and the fact that the elements of the story aren't all neatly tied up, and I just saw it as a story about individual people, many of whom are jerks. I thought the padding was the best part.

But also partly because of the stark contrast between this and Sunrise, which is very explicitly a morality tale with that sort of instructional tone and characters intended as universal representations. And the story is remarkably similar in too many ways to even count, but one glaring difference is that the man is much much worse than Jean, but he's only a bad guy because he is in the thrall of a floozy. Beautiful movie, straight up loathsome 'message.' (None of that is spoilery, it's all in the setup.)

So maybe that's a big reason it didn't bother me that Jean was a dick, because as bad as Jean was, he was such an improvement over that guy. It also seemed to subvert that common trope in films of that time where naivete is the primary and sometimes practically the sole admirable trait for women characters. And Juliette is totally set up that way. She's the innocent young bride who has never left her home town, going out into the big bad world, but she likes it! She's curious and adventurous and intrepid and she is smart and competent in navigating it. She is pretty screwed when Jean leaves her behind, but she seems to manage pretty well.

I see her as the protagonist of the story, Jules as representing the big vast often strange and sometimes scary world that she is curious about and perfectly capable of handling, and Jean is more like a circumstance and an obstacle almost. I mean, it is a love story, but it's about people, not platonic ideals.

I might be arguing with myself a little bit about the morality tale aspect right now. Maybe it is kind of, but with Juliette as the hero.

Thanks for those articles. One of them even answered my question from before: That swinging pole thing is the boom. I'm learning about boats up in here!

BTW I just noticed that I called Jean 'Jim' up there. Weird.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:08 AM on September 17, 2015

Yeah, it's interesting reading your take Ian A.T. because I took the jerkiness as just how life is, not an endorsement. I can see though now that you bring this stuff up that the conflicts between the lovers are supposed to be kind of cute little mutual spats, rather than the imbalanced power relationship that they are.
posted by latkes at 3:20 PM on September 17, 2015

I should say I did like that Juliette's reaction to being abandoned and then robbed was so "C'est la vie." She just got on with living. That's not as easy as it sounds, sometimes.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:08 PM on September 17, 2015

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