The bitter Parisian winter of 1934 brought us this wonderful film, arguably the cinema’s most perfect realisation of romantic love, but it also took the life of Jean Vigo. The creator of L’Atalante succumbed to tuberculosis at 29 without ever seeing his masterpiece in its final form. The title comes from the barge which handsome Jean Dasté runs up and down the Seine, a decidedly down-at-heel vessel (crewed by cantankerous old salt Michel Simon), which isn’t the home Dasté’s restless young wife Dita Parlo had imagined for herself. Since she’d rather be taking in the bright lights of Paris, is their life together over before it has begun?
Rarely (if ever) has filmmaking delivered such a palpable feeling of longing, as Vigo enters the very psyche of his two lovers, combining poetic speculation and naturalistic drama to vivid and utterly timeless effect. If you’ve never seen this, you still don’t know the full extent of the cinema’s expressive reach. Don’t miss this chance to catch a new digital restoration. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.)