review for L'Atalante on AllMovie

L'Atalante (1934)
by Lucia Bozzola review

In his only full-length feature, released shortly before he died at age 29, Jean Vigo led the way for the French poetic realist style, deriving poignant beauty from the drab reality of a couple's marital problems while they live on a river barge. Beginning with their on-shore wedding and near-surreal, low-angle walk to the barge across barren fields, Vigo turns the ups and downs of the couple's mundane existence into rapturously dreamlike visual interludes interspersed with moments of humor and grotesquerie from the barge's other two inhabitants. Expressively shot by Boris Kaufman, the cramped quarters, the river's fog, and the industrial riverfront wastelands complement the struggle between Dita Parlo's bride and Jean Dasté's skipper/husband as they adapt to married life; underwater shots and superimpositions lyrically evoke their anguish after a separation. The catalogue of the cat-loving first mate (Michel Simon)'s eccentric international souvenirs underlines the freedom afforded by barge life. Unmoved by Vigo's artistic bravery, the producers mutilated L'Atalante in 1934; censors banned it anyway. Finally restored to its original form in 1989, L'Atalante was voted one of the ten best films of the 20th century in a 1999 Village Voice critics' poll.