L' Atalante (1934)

Newly-weds begin their life together on a working barge in this luminous and poetic romance, the only feature film by director Jean Vigo.

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“Acting, setting, script, music and photography, which includes startlingly beautiful special effects, merge to create the loveliest, least maudlin study of human desire ever committed to film.”
Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide, 2011

Three surrealism-tinged shorts and one feature are the sum of Jean Vigo's work before he died aged 29 from tuberculosis, yet they have assured him cinematic immortality.

The tale of a young bride joining her husband on the barge where he works with the coarse, ursine Père Jules (Michel Simon), L'Atalante is rooted in a pungent, earthy naturalism that, in Vigo's hands, becomes the springboard for flights of film poetry. Estranged by boredom, then separated when Juliette (Dita Parlo) flees for the excitements of Paris, the film visualises the lovers' mutual longing with sensuous immediacy, as when Jean dives into the Seine and imagines his lost love in the water alongside him. Vigo's open-air spontaneity and low-budget lyricism were a key influence on the French New Wave of the late 1950s and 60s.

Murnau's silent classic Sunrise (1927) is another lyrical story of the lure of the city and a troubled couple falling in love again.

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