Monday, September 22, 2008

The Great Movies: "L'Atalante"

Jean Vigo, 1934

L'Atalante is routinely listed as one of the very finest films of all time. Well, whatever. It's OK.

It is an episodic and dreamlike movie, more about its own quirky characters than any particular plot or message. Ebert wrote that it has the qualities of memory, and I think this is right: as the characters travel down a French river on a barge, we don't get the usual narrative structure of establishing shots, landmarks, and key events, but rather snippets of events that might have personal emotional significance. It's wistful, sometimes funny and sweet, and often kind of weird. But it honestly isn't what you would call riveting, either. The movie moves at its own slow pace, like the barge it is filmed on.

Plot: A young village woman marries the captain of a shabby river barge, and becomes the fourth member of its eccentric crew. As the days go by, she begins to suspect that this might not have been the best plan for escaping the claustrophobia of small-town life.

Visuals: Much hailed, and certainly very moody. Also rather muddy, I thought.

Dialogue: In French, with what I suspected were overly literal and humorless subtitles. In this kind of quirky character drama, accent and diction are usually pretty important, and these were of course lost to me.

Prognosis: If you a) enjoy the movies of Jim Jarmusch, and b) enjoy movies of the 1930s and 1940s, then: you will c) enjoy L'Atalante.


Anonymous said...

Will check it out eventually.

I do love to listen to French being spoken.

I wonder why it is hailed so mightily. I have never heard of it. Must investigate.

Elizabeth said...

I've been trying to figure out why Jay Leno dyed his hair blond and took up the accordion.

fingerstothebone said...

I was going to ask the same basic question, only about Bill Clinton.