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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Sunday, December 2, 2012
2:30 p.m. L’Atalante
Jean Vigo (France, 1934)

Imported 35mm Print!

Jean Vigo’s only full-length feature is a poetic masterpiece on the theme of passionate love, employing the fantastic set pieces and bizarre juxtapositions that were so dear to the director. In telling of a young barge captain and his peasant bride in their first days together on his barge, and of their separation when she sneaks off to Paris, L’Atalante surprises realism with surrealism, much as Jean is surprised by his wife’s desire. Shot against a backdrop of the Parisian canals—with which, Vigo wrote, “we were intoxicated”—the film anticipates the methods of neorealism by almost fifteen years, particularly in the acting: “To reveal,” as Vigo said, “the hidden reason from a gesture, to extract from an ordinary person his interior beauty—or a caricature of him.” Michel Simon as the grisly, tattooed Père Jules, and Dita Parlo as the bride Juliette, are unforgettable.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Vigo, Albert Riera, from a story by Jean Guiné. Photographed by Boris Kaufman, Louis Berger. With Michel Simon, Dita Parlo, Jean Dasté. (100 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Institut Français, permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)

Preceded by:
Zero for Conduct
Jean Vigo (France, 1933)

(Zéro de conduite). Vigo was often called the cinema’s Rimbaud, not only for his youth, but also for his passionate sincerity, rich imagery, and directness of language. Zero for Conduct is based on very personal childhood experiences; it is cruel, playful and exuberant, and filled with unexpected gags and observations. Set in a boarding school, the loose but emotionally charged story creates a model of rebellion, portraying not only the petty, dictatorial regime of a school, but the dynamics, fervor and delirium of revolt as well. It is poetry, wild in hatred and tender in remembrance. 

Written by Vigo. Photographed by Boris Kaufman. With Jean Dasté, Louis Lefebvre, Robert Le Flon, Delphin. (41 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Janus Films/Criterion Collection)

Total running time: 141 mins