Last night I watched L'Atalante, directed by Jean Vigo in 1934. This film, as far as I can tell, is out of print, or at least hard to find. Places like Netflix didn't have it, and there was no way to buy a new DVD of it on Amazon - I ended up buying the VHS tape from Amazon for about $20. I think it was worth it. The film was pretty magical looking, even with all of the noise and badness of the VHS.
The movie is about a newlywed couple, Jean and Juliette. It doesn't show what we would expect a movie about newlyweds to show. I expected the cliche - they love each other, they can't have enough of each other, you know how it is. I've obviously never been a newlywed, but I've seen and heard about how amazing it is, or something. Vigo goes in a much different route. He shows how hard it is to start to live with someone. To get used to all of their strange quirks and ways of doing things. Juliette wants to see Paris and have fun, and Jean wants to eat dinner with cats on the table.
I think everyone can relate to this plot. It's easy to fall in love, but it's harder to live with the person that you love. Everything does things differently and it's hard to get used to that. There are things that Anthony does that I cannot stand or understand. I don't like how he makes eggs. I don't like how he makes beds. But I had to learn to let it go. I don't watch him make beds so I don't stand and nag at him to do it my way. I either cook the eggs or I go out of the room. But it's hard to get used to! This is what this movie is about - and I love it, because everyone can relate to that. We all know how hard it is to deal with people's quirks - the ones you don't see when you date.
The imagery in this film is...astounding. It will make you love cinema. There is something so rich and unique about it. I feel shocked when I think about the fact that it was made in 1934. The visuals felt really new and so different. There is a really beautiful scene in this movie that Ebert writes about. He writes, "Juliette told Jean that when she put her face into water and opened her eyes, she could see her true love: "I saw you before I met you." Now in desperation Jean plunges into the icy canal, and Juliette's smiling presence swims up before him. "This must count as one of the most dazzling images of a loving woman in the history of the cinema," wrote the novelist Marina Warner" (The Great Movies, 257). This is just one example. The film is full of beautiful images and scenes like this one - but this scene left me breathless. It was perfect.
Even though this movie is hard to find, I think it is worth the effort. If you know me, come over and watch the VHS with me. It was worth buying it and I would be so happy so share this movie with others. I don't know if I can say that everyone should buy it - I just hope that it is re-released soon, and that others can see it. Like I said about the Apu Trilogy, it seems hard to accept that things go out of print in this day and age, and I feel sad that a movie like this, something so beautiful, is so hard to find to watch!
Have you seen L'Atalante? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on L'Atalante
Scene from the film (that I mentioned above)