Hmm. I seem to do better when I know a little bit about a film before going into it, rather than going in blind, which I’ve done a number of times in the past, and I did as well with this, L’Atalante. I don’t really know why I went into this knowing nothing about it; it was just a slow day, and so I popped it in, hoping just to check another one off the list. Now, however, having seen it, and read the book’s entry on it as well as some additional research, I’m afraid I didn’t give the film a sporting chance. Knowing nothing about it going in, I seemed to have gotten even less out of it coming out.
The first thing I quite easily picked up on was the title, L’Atalante, is the name of a boat; indeed, it’s the opening shot. Why the film takes place on a boat I couldn’t tell you, and I spent a good deal of time trying to figure it out. The film was so… empty of meaning or reason; it just went about its business and displayed the film accordingly, almost just to say that it did, and for no other incentive. Rather than spend most of the time engaged in the film, I instead spent it trying to figure out what the whole point of it was, and why it did the various things that it did; why the plot turned this way instead of that, why this character was there, what was up with the cats, and yes, why the film largely took place on a boat. Normally, this would add a claustrophobic feel to the film, which it sort of does, but the film apparently had no purpose in being claustrophobic, yet it was regardless. Nothing in the film served any real purpose; it was just captured on celluloid for the hell of it; at least, that’s how it felt to me.
All throughout watching this, I never got the feeling that I was watching something of weight or substance. I was just watching it, just because I was watching it. Nothing meant anything, and that alone meant that I was never invested in the film in any way, other than merely to get through it. Even at an hour and a half, the film felt longer than it was, which to me is never a good thing, but the biggest problem with L’Atalante, for me, was that I just didn’t care. And what was worse, no part of me even wanted to, even after sitting through it all. I guess I could attribute this to my recent string of more modern films from the list; it may have put me off the sensibility that is needed to enjoy a 1930’s film, especially a foreign one. Maybe I was just not in the mood to give a care about this, though it wasn’t hard when the film gave such little care to itself. Or maybe I’m just making excuses. Regardless, I’m left at a loss of how to recommend this, if indeed I would at all. All I can say is, honestly, I think it deserved more of a chance than I gave it. Here’s hoping you’ll get more out of it than I did.
It just occurred to me that I went the whole review without mentioning the one aspect I did enjoy; the character of Jules, played by Michel Simon. Dirty, grungy, an ape of a man, concerned only with his own pleasures, but he was strangely nothing but a joy to watch, perhaps because he was just so happy himself that it became infectious. Still, kudos to the actor and to Jean Vigo for realizing such a character.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10