Sunday, 13 March 2011


Jean Vigo was 29 when he made L'ATALANTE and dying of tuberculosis. His total output consists of a surreal documentary, A PROPOS DE NICE, about the town of Nice, a short film about a French swimming champion, a medium length feature about school kids, ZERO DE CONDUIT. All his films have a veneer of reality but Vigo had the eye of a poet and he was able to dig beneath the surface to discover the surrealism inherent in everyday life. In L'ATALANTE Vigo retains his eye for surrealistic imagery but the real power of this beautiful film comes from what today we have come to call "magical realism. A young barge captain marries an inexperienced village girl and almost as soon as the wedding ceremony is over the couple set off on his barge towards Paris. Although the newly weds are obviously in love the girl is not prepared for her husband's initially rough ways and the harsh realities of life on a working barge. As the barge moves slowly up the river, through fog, the bleak industrial landscape the film becomes as much a journey through the couples developing relationship as a realistic voyage (it is not to far fetched to compare the symbolism of the journey with that used by Conrad in his far bleaker Heart of Darkness). The girl dreams of Paris and fashions and romance (personified by the lively seductive tinker) but reality proves darker. Vigo never lets the symbolism overpower the human story of people learning to live together and his characters are fully developed with all the failings and idiosyncrasies of real people. The couple are beautifully played and Michel Simon gives in Pere Jules one of the most memorable screen performances of all time - and it isn't just comedy relief as some have suggested. A wonderful film. How sad that all Vigo's films now fit on to one DVD.....but at least we have them.

No comments: